Warning about deaths from cosmetic surgery in Mexico

By Manuel Ayala

Tijuana, Mexico, Aug 4 (EFE).- In the Mexican border city of Tijuana three people have died during cosmetic surgery in the past month, raising the alarm about illegal or “patito” (ugly duckling) clinics that cater to medical tourists, most of them from the United States.

The president of the College of Plastic, Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgeons in Baja California, Laura Cardenas Mata, told EFE about her concern over the negative impact the deaths are having on the medical sector in the region, which is considered one of the world capitals of medical tourism with about two million patients each year.

Cardenas Mata emphasized that about 90 percent of the patients come from abroad, and special attention is paid to picking them up at the airport and seeing them safely on the way home again after their surgeries.

“The country from which most of them arrive is the United States, followed by Canada and the United Kingdom,” she said.

The doctor said that the three deaths in July were regrettable, noting that two of them occurred during cosmetic surgury and the third as a result of a weight control procedure.

The first patient to die was Maria Jose Chacon, the wife of the Guatemalan consul in Denver, Colorado, Henry Giovanni Ortiz.

She died on July 5 in the private Jerusalem Hospital, located 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the San Ysidro border crossing point.

Erwin Areizaga, the head of the State Commission for Protection against Health Risks (Coepris) told EFE that the clinic had been operating without a license for the past two months, but its operators had ignored the closure order and had been continuing to attend illegally to patients.

“Currently, it has a definitive suspension whereby it cannot operate under any conditions,” he said, adding that the clinic is also facing a fine of 38 million pesos ($1.85 million) and an investigation by the State Prosecutor’s Office (FGE).

The second victim died on July 20 at the Mi Doctor Hospital and was a man identified as Robert from the state of Tennessee. He died while he was under observation two days after undergoing a weight control procedure.

Authorities took Robert’s body to the Forensic Medical Service (Semefo) but neither the experts there nor the hospital have made any response in the case.

Meanwhile, the most recent death was that of Lilian Gastelum Flores, 36, who died on July 27 at the Diagnosis Hospital, a center that was operating clandestinely just a few kilometers from the San Ysidro crossing point.

Gastelum Flores was real estate agent and the mother of three children who, according to her sister Ana Karen, who accompanied her on the day of her surgery, experienced “complications” in the operation of the medical equipment and died while undergoing liposuction.

On the day of her death, Ana Karen, told the media that about an hour passed from the moment her sister entered the clinic and when the doctor notified her of her death.

Cardenas Mata mentioned that Alexander Leroy Llamas, the doctor who attended to Gastelum Flores, did not have a plastic surgeon’s license and, in reality, was a veterinarian.

Given that fact, she warned that a census conducted by her organization found that just in Tijuana there are more than 300 people operating as surgeons illegally, calling them “charlatans.”

Thus, Coepris announced on Tuesday its “Tu belleza con certeza” (Your beauty with certainty) campaign to verify that clinics are operating legally, identify irregularities and guarantee the health of their patients.

So far this year, 78 clinics of this kind have been closed for assorted violations.

Meanwhile, Baja California Gov. Marina del Pilar Avila has promised that she will present a bill to the local legislature to more stringently regular these clinics and prevent “charlatans” from conducting medical procedures on unsuspecting patients.

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