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“The procedures themselves cost around 20% less than they would have in Canada. But more important. I was cosseted and taken care of the whole time. I'm on my own, and if I had had the surgery done at home I would have been responsible for getting myself back and forth from the hospital and then I would have been all alone at home."

Diana Burns

National Post

Scalpel Safari

A growing number of Canadians are going abroad for an array of plastic surgery treatments, from breast implants, tummy tucks and tangos to laser eye surgery and face lifts  

Camilla Cornell – Weekend Post – Saturday, May 21, 2005

Diana Burns took the trip of a lifetime to South Africa last fall. She thrilled to the sight of lions and elephants in the wild, took a vineyard tour around scenic Cape town -- and had a few small procedures performed. "I booked a tummy tuck and liposuction, and once I got there I decided to have my eyes done as well," says the Calgary woman. "Then I added two veneers for my front teeth." Burns went home feeling like a new woman.

Surgeon & Safari Spa Treatment"I know I'm never going to be 20 again," she says. "That wasn't my focus. I just wanted to feel good about myself." Indeed, the 61-year-old Burns had been through the decade from hell -- surviving breast cancer and the death of her husband -- and she was "determined to do something for myself."

Diana Burns took the trip of a lifetime to South Africa last fall. She thrilled to the sight of lions and elephants in the wild, took a vineyard tour around scenic Cape town -- and had a few small procedures performed. "I booked a tummy tuck and liposuction, and once I got there I decided to have my eyes done as well," says the Calgary woman. "Then I added two veneers for my front teeth." Burns went home feeling like a new woman.

"I know I'm never going to be 20 again," she says. "That wasn't my focus. I just wanted to feel good about myself." Indeed, the 61-year-old Burns had been through the decade from hell -- surviving breast cancer and the death of her husband -- and she was "determined to do something for myself."

The experience couldn't have been more positive, she says. She was picked up at the airport and taken to her spacious private room, then ferried around by a driver. "He kept running out to get me food and drinks," she says. "And he was very concerned that I should have cake. 'You must eat cake,' he told me."

The three-week sojourn, including medical procedures, cost approximately $20,000, including airfare. The procedures themselves cost around 20% less than they would have in Canada. But more important, says Burns, "I was cosseted and taken care of the whole time. I'm on my own, and if I had had the surgery done at home I would have been responsible for getting myself back and forth from the hospital and then I would have been all alone at home."

Burns is one of a growing number of people who are going abroad for an array of plastic surgery treatments, from breast implants, tummy tucks, face lifts and hair implants to cosmetic dentistry and laser eye procedures.

"It's definitely becoming more popular," says Chantel Simmons, editor of Toronto-based Elevate, a magazine focused on anti-ageing and cosmetic enhancement. So-called medical tourists are drawn by prices that can be half of what you'd pay at home, as well as personalized service and top-notch hospitals and doctors. The bonus: "For a lot of these procedures you have to recover for a period of time," says Simmons. "It kind of makes sense to go away and come back looking really 'rested.' "

The caveat: There are incompetent doctors everywhere, so check qualifications carefully or sign on with a reputable provider of surgery vacations. What's more, if you've had your surgery abroad and something goes awry when you get back, it may be difficult to find a Canadian plastic surgeon to step in.

"What happens if you get an infection?" asks Simmons. "If you are going away for surgery, you really should talk to the doctor who's going to do the work ahead of time and get them to suggest someone at home that you can go to if needed."

And you might want to slot in tanning time or a safari before your surgery. "For some procedures you can't go out in the sun and you have to rest, so it's not always realistic to think you can go on a safari or lie on the beach. In fact, doctors often suggest that you don't fly after surgery, so you really have to calculate how much time you need to recover."

Countries that are finding a niche in the world of medical tourism include Thailand, Mexico, South Africa, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, India (regarded as a leader in eye surgery) and a number of Eastern European nations. Read on for a sampling of sightseeing-and-surgery packages abroad.

SCALPEL SAFARIS

South Africa's devalued rand means bargains for clients at many of the country's cosmetic surgery clinics. As one surgeon commented dryly: "You get first-world infrastructure at Third World prices." Clients can combine surgery with a vacation, recovering at luxurious hotels or opting for a safari package, points out Lorraine Melvill, founder of Surgeon and Safari (www.surgeon-and-safari.co.za).

It specializes in cosmetic surgery vacation packages in South Africa. All packages include liaison with a surgeon, on-line consultations, pre- and post-surgical appointments, airport pick-up and a clinic stay. All surgeons used by the company belong to the South African Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons Association and the South African Medical Council for Malpractice. They are selected by Melvill for their skill.

Packages start at about US$1,800 (they're calculated in South African rand, so they vary). In addition to the clinical services mentioned above, the price also includes three days accommodation at a five-star hotel and soft procedures such as Botox, Derma Live and Restylane. One seven-day package features two surgical procedures such as lip enhancements, tummy tucks, eyelid surgery, full face laser resurfacing or liposuction, with accommodations and some meals, starting at US$4,500. A 14-day package for US$9,000 gets you surgical procedures such as eyelid surgery, full-face laser resurfacing, liposuction, breast lift, health and beauty options and accommodations.

FACELIFT OLÉ

Cobblestone streets, bullfights and a little nip and tuck. What's not to like? The lovely little artists' colony of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico has become known for a different kind of art in recent years. The town's hospital, a state-of-the-art facility with 20 specialists on staff, has become a draw for Canadians, Americans and Brits seeking cut-rate facelifts with top-quality service. Facelifts Mexico (www.faceliftmexico.com) offers a full face lift, including forehead, eyelids, face and neck, for US$6,000. Liposuction starts at US$2,000.

TUMMY TUCK AND TANGO

Argentina's reputation as a low-cost destination for medical tourists is spreading. According to Plenitas (www.plenitas.com), a local medical organization, average prices for procedures are 50% to 60% lower than in Canada. The company handles some 40 surgeries a day on foreigners. It has a May special for US$5,155 that includes liposuction in two areas and a tummy tuck, transfers to and from the airport, two weeks accommodations and a bilingual personal assistant to accompany you on all medical appointments.

Breast implants and tango lessons, including 10 nights accommodation, will set you back US$2,900; a facelift and blepheroplasty (eyelid surgery) with eight nights accommodation costs US$3,355; and hair implants (including 1,000 grafts and two nights accommodation) costs US$1,855.

Cindy Kolodziej Schneider, marketing manager for Plenitas, says the University of Buenos Aires' medical program is on a par with the best universities in the United States and Europe. "Most of the physicians have received specialized training at the most prominent universities in the world," she adds. Airfare to Buenos Aires and tours cost extra.

NIP AND TUK TUK

Some 600,000 foreign tourists travelled to Thailand for medical treatment last year, generating about 20-billion baht, or approximately $635-million. There, private hospitals can be as luxurious as hotels, and most have an ISO 900x certification, says Dr. Ivos Vander Vegt of Medical Thailand (www.medicalthailand.com), which specializes in arranging surgery vacations. Many doctors are trained and educated in Europe or the United States, and have international designations for plastic surgery training.

Vander Vegt contends that plastic surgery procedures in Thailand cost about half what they would cost in Canada. Lasik surgery on two eyes, for example, ranges from US$1,300 to US$1,900; a breast lift will set you back US$1,800 to US$2,300. Medical Thailand has a range of rates for accommodation, from US$10 a night in a guest house, to US$165 a night for a five-star hotel.

A small price to pay for perceived perfection.

 

© National Post 2005

 

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