Instead of going to a licensed medical practitioner for breast augmentation two weeks ago, a woman from Tyler, Texas, decided to go to Queen Divas Hair Salon and Spa instead. There, she was implanted with an unidentified substance by salon owner Carmel Foster, authorities told a local television station. The woman “became very ill — her chest was swollen, and she was complaining of a lot of pain.” She was admitted to a local hospital in critical condition.
Going under the knife is a pricey and painful decision, but thousands choose to undergo the procedures in search of that ideal body. But, the unsafe -— not to mention highly illegal -— choice to cut costs and go with a less reputable doctor or use an unlicensed person can be downright deadly.
“You’re having surgery electively,” explains Dr. Stephan Baker, a licensed plastic surgeon in Coral Gables, Fla., who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. “It makes all the sense in the world to check up on your surgeon.”
“You say to yourself, ‘What were some of these people thinking?’” he added.
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The ABPS, the world’s largest organization of board-certified plastic surgeons, warns that more patients than ever are getting injured or dying because they are choosing to undergo procedures with unqualified surgeons or people.
The Texas story is just one case in a string of recent horrifying plastic surgery nightmares, which includes one woman who injected rubber cement into her patients to give them butt implants. A Los Angeles woman was left with a “uniboob,” where both her breasts were connected by skin after a botched surgery. And just last year, a woman received a $10 million settlement from a British judge who determined her face lift surgery, which was performed in Leeds, U.K., caused nerve damage.
Baker says he understands why people want the cheaper route, but with any discount a potential patient must wonder what they are giving up for the lower cost. “There is a misconception among consumers that as long as a doctor is certified in a medical field that he or she is qualified to practice plastic surgery. This is absolutely wrong and it is dangerous for patients,” said Malcolm Z. Roth, an M.D. and ASPS president.
However, some people will opt to travel to other countries or locations to get their surgery done for cheaper. Baker says while “medical tourism” doesn’t necessarily mean a death sentence, and different markets do have different prices, it is still very important to make sure that whoever is performing your procedure is licensed and the appropriate person to do your procedure. “To stay safe, you have to do your homework,” Baker said.
The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons said that cases of corrective surgery rose 38 percent over 2011, with the majority of the revisions due to medical tourism procedures — especially breast resizing. And 72 percent of surgeons said they had seen tourism surgery cases they couldn’t correct.
“You have to be suspicious, and you have to ask questions,” Baker said. “If it is too good to be true, it is too good to be true. Surgery is something you can’t return.”
How to find a good doctor
Baker says there are some simple checks that any person can do to make sure their surgeon is not only licensed to perform the procedure they want, but will know what to do if a complication arises.
Check what boards the surgeon is certified by and make sure the accreditation comes from a valid organization.
Look into if the person performing the procedure has a valid medical license. In the United States, you can always check with a state’s Board of Medicine to see if the doctor is licensed to practice in that state.
Ask about what kind of anesthesia the doctor gives patients, and who will administer the anesthesia. A licensed anesthesiologist should be on hand.
Read about the doctor’s reputation. If people are happy, chances are the new patent will be happy too. Look at before and after photos.
See if the person performing the procedure has privileges at any local hospitals. Because many plastic surgery operations take place in the doctor’s office, Baker says it is important to make sure that the doctor can have you treated right away just in case something goes wrong. Hospitals that give plastic surgeons privileges are vouching for the doctor.