Risk of serious medical complications as Canadians seek weight-loss surgery abroad
Published Friday, November 15, 2013 10:35PM EST
Last Updated Friday, November 15, 2013 11:34PM EST
As morbid obesity rates continue to rise in Canada and bariatric surgery wait times grow longer, more patients are heading to other countries for cheaper weight-loss alternatives, only to return home with serious medical complications.
Nearly 1 million Canadians suffer from morbid obesity but less than one per cent of eligible patients are offered bariatric weight loss surgery. As a result, many Canadians look to clinics in the Caribbean or Mexico for cheaper, quicker surgery options -- but not all of them come back with positive outcomes.
Liza Wood, a 43-year-old mother of two from Edmonton, has spent the last two years in the hospital recovering from “quickie” weight loss surgery she had done in Mexico in 2011.
Wood says she was seriously overweight and suffering from a variety of health issues including diabetes and heart problems.
“I was really, really heavy and it was starting to affect my knees and my hips and my back,” Wood said.
She decided to get bariatric surgery but instead of getting the procedure done here in Canada, she chose to go to Tijuana.
“I felt that with the way my health was failing, that it needed to be done sooner rather than later,” Wood said.
Doctors in Mexico performed a “vertical sleeve” surgery on Wood where they removed part of her stomach and sent her home in less than a week.
Just a few days after returning to Canada, Woods developed an infection and suffered multiple complications as a result of her surgery.
“My stomach was leaking into my body and I was really swollen and very, very sick,” Wood said.
She was admitted to the ICU as doctors tried to put her stomach back together.
Wood has been in and out of hospitals for the past two years and has undergone nearly 50 surgeries in order to reverse the damage done to her body.
Dr. Chris de Gara, a surgeon at the Bariatric Surgery Revision Clinic in Edmonton, has been helping Wood with her recovery.
He says that while “quick-fix” surgeries may seem like a cheaper substitute for desperate patients, when such risky surgeries go wrong the burden of recovery usually falls on the Canadian health system.
“The say, ‘What I’ll do is, I will go and take my chances in Mexico,’ and if any major complications occur for such patients, then the costs are astronomical because they can be in intensive care units in hospital beds for months and months and months,” he said.
Bariatric wait times in Canada can often last 5 to 10 years and while patients like Wood come back from Mexico with harrowing complications, others are willing to take the risk.
Dana Huppie lost more than 140 pounds after having surgery in Mexico and says she is happy with the results.
“I don’t even feel like the same person anymore,” Huppie said.
She paid about $14,000 for the procedure and said she felt compelled to have the surgery after years of mental and physical pain.
“Being the weight I was, I did have thoughts of suicide, I did have thought of hurting myself and I just felt hopeless,” she said.
But Wood says that Canadians should learn from her ordeal and be more careful when considering surgery options abroad.
“You don’t have to go out of the country. You can have the surgery right here in Canada,” she said.
“Educate yourself and realize that you could go through what I went through and I’ve lost two years of my life.”
With a report by CTV News medical specialist Avis Favaro and Elizabeth St. Philip, and files from health reporter Carmen Leibel in Edmonton