Mexico medical tourism booms as Americans risk lives for surgeries: ‘Worst choice I ever made’
Just days after four Americans were kidnapped and two were killed while crossing the Mexican border, Mexico’s President says his country is safer than the U.S.
“Mexico is safer than the U.S., and there’s no problem with traveling safely across Mexico,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said during his daily press briefing. “That’s something the U.S. citizens know, and something our fellow countrymen know. It’s not that they’re afraid. It’s not that this violence you mention really exists, no. Its manipulation, pure and vile manipulation.”
The group was reportedly traveling for cheap medical procedures, highlighting the dangers of medical tourism. The industry brings big money for Mexico. But, going under the knife at a Mexican clinic has left many Americans fighting for their lives.
Justine Rodriguez had a bariatric procedure that left her fighting for her life and on a feeding tube for nearly three years.
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“I was nervous about the surgery, but like I said, I was desperate,” says Justine Rodriguez.
Rodriguez was nearly 400 pounds when the Idaho native made the decision to get weight-loss surgery. Her insurance would not cover the procedure, so she went to Tijuana, Mexico.
“That was probably the worst choice I ever made in my life,” Rodriguez said.
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The 2016 surgery only cost $5,000 but left the Rodriguez, now 37, with major complications.
“My lungs collapsed. My kidneys and my liver were going. The infection went to my brain,” says Rodriguez.
Medical tourism is a booming business in Mexico. Every year, more than 1 million Americans cross the border to save up to 70% on elective procedures. According to Patients Beyond Borders, the most common procedures are dental work and cosmetic and weight-loss surgeries. Patients Beyond Borders writes a guide to international medical travel.
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“In Mexico, there’s less regulations. So you need to do your homework,” said Josef Woodman, the CEO of Patients Beyond Borders.
As was seen this month in Matamoros, Mexico, crossing the border can be deadly.
“We got used to patients being pretty much 100% safe when they crossed the border, even into dangerous territories,” says Woodman.
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But, as long as it is cheaper south of the border, Americans will take the risk.
“The money is not worth it. It’s not worth your life,” Rodriguez said.
As officials warn of cartel violence just over the border, the CDC is reminding Americans of the risks with medical tourism, pointing out that the standards at clinics out of country are different than in the U.S.
The CDC has also released alerts after finding several patients who contracted serious infections linked to clinics in Mexico that are resistant to antibiotics.
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