More than 200,000 Americans a year experience weight loss, or bariatric surgery, and tens of thousands go to Mexico to get it done. Medical tourism is big business, but is it safe? In most cases, yes, but when there are complications, fixing the problem can be costly and painful.
Life is good for 32-year-old Isabel Torres and her family, but complications from bariatric surgery in Mexico nearly killed her.
“Had this not worked, I don’t know where I’d be,” Torres said.
Torres is here because of the innovative work of Steven Leeds, MD, a Gastrointestinal Surgeon from Baylor University Medical Center. Three and a half years ago, Torres weighed 365 pounds. She got bariatric surgery to remove part of her stomach in Mexico to save money, but there were complications, infections, and a leak that couldn’t be fixed. Several surgeries failed, she couldn’t eat, and she was depressed.
“Reading the chart, I knew we only had one option to go, we had to go to surgery. And this stomach that had been tortured now for over a couple of years needed to come out,” said Dr. Leeds.
In a procedure he had done many times before for cancer patients, Dr. Leeds removed the entire stomach and attached the small bowel directly to the esophagus.
Dr. Leeds explained, “We take the stomach out and we leave this bowel, and this is where the small bowel comes up to attach it to the esophagus.”
Since most of digestion actually takes place in the small intestine, a person can live without a stomach.
“Following surgery and after everything I did to her, she is living probably the most normal life she could possibly have,” said Dr. Leeds.
Torres is down to about 190 pounds and she plans to start working out. She says she regrets her decision to go to Mexico for surgery but is thankful Dr. Leeds was able to get her system back on track.
Torres says she can eat almost anything, even without a stomach, although she says vegetables and fish are easiest. Dr. Leeds warns that bariatric surgery is not a silver bullet for weight loss, and complications can happen in the United States as well. He says insurance coverage varies on whether or not the insurance will cover corrective surgery, so the cost varies case by case.