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Three Women and Plastic Surgery with Same Surgeon on Same Day in Tijuana

Dr. Kenneth Hughes in Los Angeles performs many revision surgeries for a wide range of procedures like liposuction, tummy tuck, breast augmentation, rhinoplasty and many others.  Some of these patients elected to have their plastic surgery procedures outside of the United States.  Wendy Fry from the San Diego Tribune recently highlighted some of the problems with medical tourism in Tijuana.

Three women from California went to get cosmetic work done in Tijuana by the same surgeon on the same day. Americans often go to Tijuana for medical services in search of low-cost options. But doctors caution that bargain shopping for cosmetic surgeries can be risky. In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning after 11 Americans returned home with antibiotic-resistant infections.

Demand for cosmetic treatment has shot up since last March. Plastic surgeons worldwide report an unprecedented number of requests for procedures they believe were brought on by workers spending more time staring at their faces on Zoom. Tijuana has shared in that boom, part of a larger effort by state officials to build up its medical tourism industry. Before the pandemic, so many Americans regularly crossed into Baja California to undergo weight-loss surgery, visit the dentist or have blood work done at a fraction of the U.S. cost that the state initiated a special medical “Fast Lane” program at the border in 2011. U.S. patients of registered Mexican doctors were allowed to pass through the border in a special lane, avoiding the notoriously long waits.

The industry has tripled in recent years, from 800,000 medical tourists documented in 2014 to 2.4 million in 2018, generating annual revenues of more than $1.7 billion. That includes the spill-over effect of spending on luxury hotels and restaurants, where patients stay and eat before and after their procedures.

In Tijuana, the most visited location in Baja California for medical tourism, business has not been as heavily impacted by the pandemic as other locations across the globe. These patients scheduled for liposuction and tummy tucks. One of the patients had brain damage from decreased oxygen to the brain.  One had postoperative bleeding and renal failure and was hospitalized in another California hospital.  One of the patients had abdominal compartment syndrome and kidney failure after tummy tuck.  This patient received treatment in California hospitals for these complications.

State law in Baja California since 2014 has stipulated that only certified plastic surgeons can perform liposuction and a range of other cosmetic procedures such as tummy tucks and mommy makeovers.The doctor does not list qualifications as a plastic surgeon on his website, nor does he list among his credentials having any specialty training as a surgeon that is legally necessary to practice plastic surgery.

Patients are part of the problem; some don’t want to pay for the full cost of a plastic surgeon, so they knowingly go to someone with fewer qualifications. The fact that there are so many cosmetologists who can continue working in the field shows there is a market for them.