Tuesday, February 9, 2016

How I Shopped For My Weight Loss Surgery in Mexico

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Weight loss surgery changed my life, I only wish I had done it sooner. I tried many other weight loss methods before I realized it was such an effective solution. I've been overweight since puberty and obese since early adulthood, and I never lost the weight I gained during two consecutive pregnancies. By the time I saw "250" on the scale – on my 30th birthday, no less – my body didn't feel like my own anymore.

Of course, bariatric surgery still seemed "too extreme" for years. After I stopped finding my size in regular department stores, I asked my doctor if I should get a LAP-BAND®. She assured me I was a good candidate for gastric band surgery, but I soon discovered that my insurance plan doesn't cover weight loss surgery. Without insurance, the procedure would cost more than my car – the average cost of LAP-BAND surgery is about $25,000 in the United States – so I turned to restrictive diets instead.

Unfortunately, they did more harm than good. When I fainted in my cubicle during a ten-day "juice cleanse" that dissolved a whooping three pounds, a co-worker pulled me aside to tell me a secret. Her upcoming vacation in Mexico? It was actually a “medical tourism” trip. She was traveling to Tijuana for a gastric sleeve. And when I researched my options south of the border, my skepticism quickly turned into surprise.

In Mexico, bariatric surgery costs less than $7,500 on average, and it's still performed by world-class surgeons in state-of-the-art facilities. I ultimately decided to have my procedure in Mexico, but it took me a few months to narrow down my options. I've broken down my research process into a few main steps, which may help you research your own options and ensure you receive the best care possible.  

The Hospitals

After I decided to shop for weight loss surgery in Mexico, I began my search for high-quality hospitals that perform the procedure. I whittled down my list by reading reviews on sites like Bariatric Pal, Bariatric Surgery Source, and Yelp. I also researched the surgeons who worked at each medical facility. Eventually I narrowed it down to the following five hospitals:

The Obesity Control Center

The Obesity Control Center was clean, innovative, and well-reviewed. As the first hospital I researched, it made me hopeful about my international prospects and excited to learn more about my choices.

Angeles Hospital

Another top contender, Angeles Hospital is a beautiful and up-to-date medical center. I was encouraged by the variety of procedures they perform, the surgeon's extensive bariatric experience, and the fact that I would be in the same building as other doctors if anything went wrong.

Mexico Bariatric Center

Mexico Bariatric Center isn't as beautiful as the first two hospitals on this list, but it has plenty of positive reviews and a very well-regarded bariatric surgeon on staff.  

Hospital de La Mujer y El Niño

Hospital de La Mujer El Nino doesn't have a very imposing exterior, but it seems to be a legitimate hospital with a variety of specialists on staff. I didn't find enough bariatric-specific reviews to assuage my doubts, but there are more reviews in Spanish than English, so I couldn't read all of them.

Mexicali Bariatric Center

I also considered Mexicali Bariatric Center, a surgery center located within Hospital Almater in Baja California's capital city. The center has multiple bariatric specialists on staff, and it's reassuringly close to other types of medical facilities.

The Medical Staff

Angeles Hospital was looking good so far, but I wanted to be sure I was putting my life in the right hands, so I researched the doctors next.

Dr. Ariel Ortiz, The Obesity Control Center

Dr. Ortiz is a gastric balloon pioneer and board-certified surgeon with a long history of happy patients behind him. He has served as director of the Obesity Control Center and president of the Mexican Association of Bariatric Surgery, and his life seems to revolve around various organizations and volunteer efforts to curb worldwide obesity.

Dr. Juan Lopez Corvala, Hospital Angeles

It’s hard to beat the expertise of Dr. Corvala. He's considered among the top ten bariatric surgeons – not just in Mexico, but in the entire world and has performed more than 1,500 laparoscopic gastric band surgeries. He has also taught other surgeons how to perform bariatric procedures, as a professor in the United States (including Yale), Europe, and Latin America.

Dr. Jaime Ponce De Leon, Mexico Bariatric Center

Dr. Ponce De Leon is such a quick-thinking doctor that he earned a nickname – "Super Ponce" – for his ability to rescue procedures after complications. He has more than two decades of experience in various countries, including the United States and France, and he performs revisions of other surgeons' LAP-BAND procedures.

Dr. Mario Almanza, Hospital de la Mujer y el Niño

According to his personal website, Dr. Almanza has performed more gastric sleeve procedures than any other surgeon in the world. His prices are also among the lowest I've seen, and he definitely emphasizes his low rates online. While I was able to find lots of positive reviews from former patients, I also found negative experiences as well.

Dr. Antonio Esquerra, Mexicali Bariatric Center

Dr. Esquerra actually received training in Advanced Laparoscopy at Angeles Hospital, so I knew he had a solid background. Dr. Esquerra is also board-certified in bariatric surgery with extensive training in general surgery, and he is Chief Resident in general surgery training at MBC.

The Red Flags

When I talk to obese people who are scared to get weight loss surgery in Mexico, I completely understand their reluctance. Even after I warmed up to the idea, there were plenty of red flags that popped up throughout my research. One particular Tijuana facility generated a troubling number of headlines: Jerusalem Hospital.

It got worse with each additional article. Two mothers paid $5,000 each for excess skin removal, but found skin hanging out of their incisions after the procedures. Another woman found an 11-centimeter stomach abscess after her gastric sleeve surgery. The self-proclaimed "leading experts for bariatric solutions" were obviously anything but.

After learning that Jerusalem Hospital's online picture looked nothing like the real facility, which occupied part of a strip mall, I looked up all ten hospitals on Google Maps and realized Hospital de la Mujer y El Niño is technically a "strip mall hospital" too. It's located between a tile shop and a car lot, so just to be safe, I ruled it out.

As you do your own research, make sure you confirm the location and appearance of each facility, as well as the professional background of each surgeon. There are impostors and criminals in every country, but the Internet makes it possible to do thorough research and spot red flags from a few hundred miles away.

The Final Decision

Ultimately, Angeles Hospital in Tijuana landed at the top of my list. Dr. Corvala simply seems more experienced and accomplished than any other surgeon I researched, and he works in a gorgeous and well-funded facility that includes plenty of additional specialists. The entire experience was comfortable and efficient, and the whole staff was invaluable as I prepared for my surgery, traveled to Mexico, and recovered afterwards.

I'm sure most of the doctors that made my list are competent and experienced bariatric surgeons, but I'm glad I decided to get my bariatric surgery at Angeles Hospital. As you research different facilities and surgeons, trust your intuition and make sure you pick a place that makes you feel safe. No matter what decision you make in the end, you should be free to heal and focus on your new, improved, post-op lifestyle.