TROUBLE IN PARADISE – A real story to remind you of the issues with being lured overseas for plastic surgery

Plastic Surgery Overseas

Once again, here is a story to remind you of the perils and dangers of travelling overseas to have your plastic surgery procedures. Time and time again we hear of this sort of thing happening and unfortunately, it just continues to happen.

Dr Mark Hanikeri, Plastic Surgeon from Subiaco in WA, tell us he sees quite a few patients each year for revisions to correct botched surgeries from overseas and had this to say about it. “Many people are attracted to the opportunity of having surgery in an exotic location where they believe it is much cheaper than it is at home. Some are convinced they can recuperate by the pool without increasing their risks and think they can have a holiday at the same time. Unfortunately sometimes things do go wrong. Then they are left unhappy and out of pocket far more than if they had gone through a surgeon at home and their so called holiday turns out to be a nightmare filled with regrets. Most of these patients are too ashamed and too embarrassed to share their stories so more unsuspecting clients are lulled into the belief that everyone is happy with overseas surgery”.

If you are considering having your plastic surgery done overseas, you really should read this story first.

Laura went to Thailand in August of this year for a Tummy Tuck, Breast Augmentation (BA) and Facelift. She had looked into it for a few months beforehand, got quotes, etc. before settling on a company that gave promises of plenty of support and company throughout the process. Laura didn’t really have any family, had no partner and not really any close friends she could ask to go with her, so this was an important selling point. Once she decided on which company she was going with, she took pictures, sent them to the associated surgeon and he sent back some prices.

Laura says, “The big thing was that I had support; had somebody with me. The main facilitator of the trip said she would be there when I went in for the op, and she would be there when I came out. There were promises of total support; not like other cosmetic tourism agencies, who take you there and dump you. The facilitator said how sorry she felt for people that went with agencies like that. I thought it all sounded great. So I signed up and committed to make it happen.”

Laura went with a group of ladies – about 10 or 11 of them. Laura says, “I was having the most done, except for one other lady who had lost 100kg and she was having massive batwings removed and a thigh lift and lipo”. Laura continues, “We all went together for our consults with the doctor. Some of the other women were saying not just to have a normal tummy tuck (TT) and to have a fleur-de-lis (FDL). I hadn’t heard of a fleur-de-lis – I thought there was only 1 type of tummy tuck. And sort of started wondering why I wasn’t told about that – I thought that was what she was there to advise me on.

“I mentioned it to my surgeon and said that’s what I’d like to go for, but then he said with the breast augmentation I needed a lift as well, which I was expecting. But then apparently I needed some kind of like ‘darts’ underneath my boobs to get a round shape. When the surgeon totaled up the cost it was like OMG! I was really upset because I don’t have tons of money, and it meant I couldn’t have the face lift because now it was so expensive. It was already going to cost me $18,000! Of course, they give it to you in Thai baht and you have to go away and work it out – and it’s not itemised. I still don’t know independently what the tummy tuck cost and the boobs. From that point on I was concerned about the money.”

Laura goes on to tell us about her actual surgery and hospital experience.

“I was in the bowels of the hospital going in for major surgery, which I had signed up for because I was assured I would not be alone; the facilitator had said she would be there but there was no familiar or comforting face. It was a 7 hour operation. I think they took about 4kg of flesh from me, and the facilitator wasn’t there when I came out of the anaesthetic either. In fact I only saw her the following evening – and then after that she did come a couple of times more (I was in for 4 days). The company gives you a mobile phone so you can stay in contact, but I wasn’t in any condition to ring anybody. I was all cut and sore under my arms, so I couldn’t even prop up on my elbows. The surgeon did an underarm BA.

On the 2nd day the nurses were fantastic; there were no shortage of nurses and they kept coming in and checking my drains. The surgeon came in the evening and just said we had to go back downstairs to the operating theatre as I was losing too much blood. Of course, I went into panic and started crying. They got a contact at the hospital who worked with the company I was with who came and said it would all be ok. I would have thought she’d have advised the facilitator of the company to come at this stage but it didn’t happen. So I had gone into the hospital on a Tuesday night. I came out on the Saturday about 7.30pm. I was doubled over (hunched) and couldn’t carry anything because of the things under my arms. The hospital provided a car back to the hotel. I got back to the hotel and I had thought someone would be waiting for me but there was absolutely no one, and it was a Saturday night. I went to my room.

“It wasn’t until the next afternoon that the facilitator came to see me to see if I needed anything. I said I needed more credit on my phone. It wasn’t until 3 days later that I got it. I was told to ring for room service to get food. I couldn’t even prop myself up on my elbows to reach the phone. Trying to get to the toilet was an absolute nightmare and didn’t always happen. I had actually brought some sultana bran with me which ended up being a life saver. I ended up eating it in a coffee cup with water so I had food. There was a few women travelling with the same company next door but not once did they ever knock on the door, so it was very lonely and it was very frightening.”

This is where Laura tells us her nightmare gets worse.

“On the Monday night my leg (in the early hours of the morning) just started burning. The pain was like a 9 or 10, it was phenomenal. I’d already kind of lost faith in the facilitator who had said I could ring at any hour so I just sat on the bed rolling my legs and wondered if this was thrombosis. The next day I hobbled down to the breakfast room. I told the group that something was wrong with my leg; my calf were so sore, and I got back to the hospital where the doctor actually said he was sending me to another medical doctor across the road.  The facilitator was there with the nurse at that point. A nurse came and got me in a wheelchair as the pain was so bad! We finally got to the doctor across the road (via a tuk tuk!) and without an opportunity to tell the facilitator where I was going first; and I sat there for 1.5hrs waiting for the doctor. I was very, very frightened. I realised I still had no credit on my phone. I couldn’t even take my lunchtime meds because I had had no food. When I finally got in to see the doctor he sent me for an ultrasound which confirmed it was thrombosis. That was when I got really scared because I knew if those clots got to my lungs I could be dead and I wasn’t really having much faith in what had been happening up to this point.

“I was eventually given an injection in my thigh of blood thinners. I was still in a real panic, not least because I still hadn’t had any contact from the company facilitator and I didn’t have any credit. She hadn’t even phoned me.  I’d been gone from her for three hours. I eventually got hold of the hospital contact who was able to bring me something to eat so I could take my tablets. I was then sent back to the hotel again and there was still no one there to meet me so I was confined to my room until the next morning I was able to make my way down to breakfast. I had a really bad night thinking I was going to die in that hotel. IT WAS REALLY SCARY, I was alone and petrified!!

“I really didn’t get the care I was expecting or felt I deserved, and paid for, throughout the whole experience. Some of the other ladies felt the facilitator was amazing but I think it was because their experience was completely different. But my nightmare wasn’t over yet! I was really concerned they wouldn’t let me on the plane with deep vein thrombosis. I called my travel insurance company to find out if I was covered to stay longer. I spent hours trying to get emails to them, and back to them – they gave me a huge list – get a ‘fit to fly’ letter from my doctor; fill out all of these other forms, etc. I missed out on a big dinner with the company, hospital staff, and group of women I’d travelled with as it was imperative I finalise everything so I could fly home. First of all I got the ‘fit to fly’ if I went business class in a recliner seat and I would have had to pay for that myself, but due to the much higher cost of the surgery than I had first expected I couldn’t afford it. I was getting little support from the facilitator or the company I had come with… in fact, I felt I was being ostracized from the group because I was making things “difficult” and things hadn’t gone as smoothly as everyone else. Instead of receiving additional support, I was in fact receiving less!

“In the end, I finally got home. It wasn’t until about 35 days later that the company and facilitator phoned to ask how I was. She said to me she had never had anybody have an experience like this before – and never anyone with deep vein thrombosis (DVT). That may or may not be true – but most people know about DVT being one of the risks. Even so, I told her they had still just left me to sort everything out on my own. That was a major operation I’d had. I was drugged up to the eyeballs, in severe pain, in a country where I don’t speak the language and I was not supported as I should have been, especially considering that was one of the selling points of the company.

“I look back at the experience and think I was lucky I got home safely in the end. The whole thing was very scary at the time and I still have worries about it all.”

Dr Hanikeri tells us that Laura’s story is sad but by no means unique. He says, “If you think you can have this type of surgery and a holiday at the same time, you are mistaken. The risk of a DVT and Pulmonary embolism after long surgery such as this is high, especially if appropriate precautions that we need to adhere to in Australia are not taken. In Australia, the cost of surgery takes into account many of the provisions we need to put in place to make the surgery as safe as possible. There is usually no such necessity overseas which together with reduced medical, hospital, staffing and device costs, makes overseas surgery available at a lower price. Be aware though, that if there are problems, these are often expensive and in addition to the original surgery fee. In contrast, complications from surgery in Australia may be covered by Medicare and private insurance and most surgeons would not charge any out of pocket expenses if these occur. This makes the surgery cheaper than overseas when problems do occur, which fortunately in Australia are quite rare.

“Many patients have surgery overseas performed by surgeons who have not been adequately trained in some of the procedures they are performing. I have seen many patients, who feel they have a good result as they do not actually know what things are supposed to look like. This is especially the case with facial aesthetic surgery. Some people mistakenly believe that it is normal to need revision within a couple of years! With all surgery, it is important to be aware that risks and complications are a normal part of surgery. Many overseas clinics will downplay these and pretend that nothing ever goes wrong. The reality is that most patients with problems are back home before the problems arise and the companies brokering the surgery will usually have little or nothing they can offer to help, whilst the surgeon performing the operation are a long way away and often unaware there was a problem.”

If you would like more information on Dr Mark Hanikeri see his listing on our website here or you can phone his clinic directly on 08 9380 0311. Have a look at some of the other Australian surgeons listed on our website.