At a fraction of the cost and across the border, cosmetic surgery in Mexico has attracted many American citizens who might not otherwise be able to afford such procedures.
But in their pursuit of a discounted flat stomach, sculpted nose, and wrinkle-free skin, patients often overlook, or are unaware of, the dangers they face — including risks before they even get to the operating table. .
Reality television shows such as “Botched” have shown the unsightly consequences of aesthetic procedures done for cheap in countries with more lax medical regulations. Now, the violent kidnapping of four Americans that ended with two dead is highlighting other potential dangers of medical tourism.
The group was abducted on Friday in Matamoros, in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. The city, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas, is one of Mexico’s most crime-ridden areas, where drug cartels and turf wars pose a constant threat.
It is not clear whether the Americans, who went to Mexico so that one of them could have a cosmetic medical procedure, was aware of the notoriety of the area. The US State Department has said that US citizens should not travel there, citing violence including kidnapping and armed robbery.
But there were hardly four to go there. Jasmine Wilson, 28, who traveled from Washington, D.C., to Matamoros in October 2022, said she didn’t know traveling to the Mexican city was risky, but said she relied largely on the safety record of her surgeon there. Did research, whom she met through social media. His Facebook page, with more than 30,000 followers, features glowing reviews about his safety protocols before and after patient transformation.
“We didn’t really have a problem,” she said.
Dr. Nan Maldonado, a cosmetic surgeon who runs a private practice at a top clinic in Cancun, said that while the low cost is what attracts many Americans to Mexico, it’s not the only reason they come. Many Americans are frustrated with other aspects of the health care system, including difficulties in getting appointments and feeling like their time with doctors is short when they come to see them.
“When I talk to my patients who come from the States, they are amazed at how doctors are coming to see them, talking with them, after surgery or even during appointments the next day.” “I find it easier to talk to your doctor here in Mexico.”
The amount of Americans coming to him for cosmetic procedures has grown so much in recent years that Americans and Canadians together now make up 40% to 50% of his clients, he said.
Maldonado said his patients also find they get better results in Mexico than they do back home.
But not everyone who visits Mexico comes away happy with the surgery.
Before going in for their operations, patients often “grandiose in their heads what they’re going to get,” said Dr. Filberto Rodriguez, a cosmetic surgeon who’s practiced in South Texas for more than a decade. He said he gets about 30 patients a month who seek care from him after complaints or complications about procedures in Mexico.
He said he’s noticed that the dream of affordable, accessible surgery can cause patients to downplay warnings about the regions they’re traveling to and the deadly complications their procedures could lead to.
“Is this a risk you’re willing to take just to save a few thousand dollars? I know people say that when you say, ‘Oh my god, it’s only saving a few thousand dollars,’ you’re talking about this.” Kind of sound like a snob.”It’s your life.”
According to David Waquist IV, founder and director of the Center for Medical Tourism Research at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Mexico welcomes many medical tourists, not only for cosmetic surgery, but also for other health care needs, including dental and drug treatments. Is. , In addition to the lower price, they go because they believe they are getting comparable or better care than at home.
“People travel for what they perceive to be value. In other words, it is not just price, but it is price plus an acceptable level of quality, which they consider to be an acceptable level of quality.
Estimates vary on how many medical tourists travel to Mexico. Pre-pandemic, some 1.2 million US citizens traveled to Mexico in 2019 for alternative medical treatments – mostly cosmetic, complex dental and bariatric treatments, said Beyond Borders, an international healthcare travel publishing and consulting firm.
And sometimes these surgeries are successful, says Dr. Alex Sobel, president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery.
“We hear and see about bad results,” he said. But “cosmetic surgery is a tremendously international community, with great surgeons and researchers.”
Discounts abroad can be significant: Sobel said he’s heard of procedures in Mexico costing as little as 80%.
That’s because the overall cost to surgeons in Mexico is lower, the savings they pass on to patients, Waquist said. This includes everything from lower costs for property and pharmaceutical drugs to lower wages for medical staff such as nurses and anesthesiology providers.
Rodriguez said it’s also due in part to the exchange rate and the lack of strict rules to follow as a surgeon in the US.
ransom and other risks
But the security of medical practices is separate from the security of the regions through which Americans travel to obtain them. The State Department has warned that in the Mexican state of Matamoros, criminals target passengers in cars and buses and demand ransom.
Wilson, who had three procedures there in October, said he didn’t feel at risk. She credited her sense of security to the space she booked at a post-surgical recovery center in Harlingen, Texas, which facilitated transportation to her operation.
A mother of four, she said she was pleased with the seamless cosmetic enhancements she received to correct loose skin around the abdominal area caused by diastasis recti, a condition that involves the separation of abdominal muscles during pregnancy.
Wilson was appalled by the recent kidnappings. Still, she said she would not hesitate to undergo the procedures again in Matamoros, as long as she used the same transportation method.
More coverage of the deadly Mexico kidnapping
Dr. Jennifer Coco, a plastic surgeon in Dallas, said there’s nothing wrong with asking for the best price “as long as you know what you’re doing.”
She said there are surgeons in Mexico who are certified according to US standards and the certification can be found on the website of the American Society for Plastic Surgeons.
“My advice is that any American who travels internationally needs to look at the State Department’s warnings about which areas are safe and what kind of issues are going on,” Waquist said. “Unfortunately in Mexico right now, there are several regions, states and cities that have warnings from the State Department.”