Cutting a Deal on Plastic Surgery in South Africa
By Samson Mulugeta AFRICA CORRESPONDENT (Newsday Photo / Samson Mulugeta)
February 12, 2002
Cape Town, South Africa - Most safari adventurers trek to Africa hoping to see the "Big Five" - lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. Bruce Shurtleff had something else in mind.
"Mine are the big five in liposuction," the Malibu, Calif., businessman said yesterday. "Thighs, abdomen, love handles, breast and chin."
Shurtleff was in South Africa to undergo plastic surgery, and he is among scores of tourists from Europe and the United States flocking to this country to combine a visit to the game parks with a bit of nip and tuck. The draw is South Africa's top-notch doctors and its falling currency, the rand, which now trades for about 11.50 to the dollar. Prices for cosmetic surgery usually are half what it would cost at home. Scars heal while visitors embark on a couple of weeks of safari, returning home tanned and looking years younger.
Breast augmentation is popular among the younger crowds, while older visitors go for lipos and face-lifts.
"They want value for their money," said Lorraine Melvill of Surgeon & Safari, the company that arranged Shurtleff's itinerary. "But privacy is very important. They tell family and friends they're going away for two weeks and by the time they return, there is no sign of the surgery."
Shurtleff, 55, a former investment banker who is now a director on the board of a software start-up, said he had visited the best plastic surgeons in Beverly Hills and was quoted a price of $19,000 for a full body liposuction. He saved half of that by doing it in South Africa. The price included airfare and a two-week stay at one of Cape Town's five-star hotels.
"But what really sealed the deal for me was when I did the research and found out South African doctors are among the best in the world," Shurtleff said.
At 8 a.m. yesterday, at Southern Cross Hospital, a few miles from the center of town here, two surgeons drew lines on Shurtleff's chest and tummy with a purple marker as a pre-operative preparation.
"These are no tribal markings," Shurtleff joked. Despite his banter, he said he was apprehensive about the five hours of surgery before him. But there was no thought of backing out.
Shurtleff, a nationally ranked swimmer for his age group, has hated his chubby body all his life and has not been able to trim down despite an almost daily regimen of exercise. "It's about how you feel about yourself," he said. "We all have one thing we would like to change whenever we look into the mirror. This is my chance. I am doing it for myself and no one else."
Dr. Lionel Jedeiken, one of Shurtleff's surgeons, said about 20 percent of his patients are men.
"Most of them are people like Bruce who do their homework and know this is the best deal they can get," he said. Melvill, of Surgeon & Safari, said she handles about 20 clients at any one time. She does most of her marketing through the Internet. She launched the company last year after an uncle from Connecticut came to South Africa for cosmetic surgery.
"It clicked," said Melvill, who was then producing corporate films. Her customers range from a 24-year-old from Seattle who wanted breast augmentation to a 69-year-old woman from Britain who opted for a face-lift.
Yesterday, in a side room outside the operating room, Shurtleff's doctors tugged and squeezed at his bulky but fit frame. Then they declared there wasn't enough fat to remove from his thigh. "I want it done because it rubs together when I swim," Shurtleff said. But the doctors were adamant.
"OK then, leave it out," Shurtleff said. "You guys are the experts."
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.