North Van woman still recovering after gastric sleeve surgery in Mexico

Canada’s health care system isn’t perfect but here’s another warning for anyone considering faster, cheaper surgery abroad.

A North Vancouver woman who traveled to Mexico for a gastric sleeve procedure is still suffering, more than a year after she returned home to B.C.

One year ago, Lucy MacLeod looked a lot different than she does today — she was pushing the scales at 300 pounds.

The wait list for gastric sleeve surgery in B.C. is three and half years and MacLeod was desperate for change.

With the cost of the procedure in B.C. at over $22,000, MacLeod decided to travel to Mexico for the procedure. The cost for the same surgery in Mexico was $4,400.

“When a friend of mine offered me a trip to Mexico to have the surgery, it seemed to me like the perfect opportunity to possibly change my life,” she says.

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She opted to go with the Jerusalem Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico.

Two days after she had the surgery in Mexico, she flew back to B.C.

MacLeod says she wasn’t feeling well when she left Mexico, and after five weeks of being back at home, she checked herself into hospital after she couldn’t shake a severe fever. That’s when she got the shock of her life.

“There was a hole in my stomach, so everything I had been consuming after surgery had been seeping out into the void,” she says. “It created an 11 cm abscess just off my stomach.”

The hospital has since closed but the Jerusalem Clinic’s Dr. Mario Almanza is still offering the same price at another surgical centre.

Global News tried to contact Dr. Almanza but his spokesperson said MacLeod’s accusation was “false.”

MacLeod says 14 other people had the surgery on the same day as her and none have reported any problems.

Still, MacLeod says she has spent the last 15 months recovering and that it’s not worth it to go abroad for the procedure despite the reduced price and wait time.

“I personally wouldn’t do it again, and I wouldn’t advise anyone to do it again, based upon the lack of aftercare. There was also no pre-screening whatsoever.”

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McLeod’s treatment back in B.C. is publicly funded by taxpayers here, according to the Canada Health Act.

“MSP ensures all British Columbians covered under MSP have access to the care they need once they return home regardless of the initial cause of the health issue or their ability to pay. This is no different than MSP covering treatment provided in B.C. to those injured abroad while participating in dangerous or risky activities,” says B.C. health ministry spokesperson Angela Frattaroli.

Global News tried to get a figure on just how much our health care system spends on treating complications from overseas treatments but the Ministry of Health says it doesn’t keep track of those numbers.

Frattaroli says they recommend British Columbians use local hospitals for any necessary surgeries.

“We recommend patients have surgeries locally so they can benefit from the support provided by our health care system before and after the procedure,” she says.  “All surgeries come with some risk, and people who go abroad could have potentially life threatening complications, particularly in countries that may not have the regulations or standards that we have in B.C.”

MacLeod is the second B.C. woman to come forward in recent months with a similar story. Vancouver’s Katherine Halstead flew to Tijuana, Mexico for the same procedure, but is now in hospital in Richmond where doctors are trying to repair the damage.

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— with files from Rumina Daya


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