CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico - Concerns regarding the safety of medical procedures outside the United States are mounting after 36-year-old Laura Avila suffered severe global brain damage before her scheduled rhinoplasty that never happened.
Be it the price, procedure or professional, traveling a few miles into Juárez, Mexico, for medical or surgical treatment is not out of the ordinary.
In El Paso, Dr. Marco Gonzalez said he also has patients traveling to him for treatment.
"I do have a lot of patients from Scottsdale, California, Dallas, even from Mexico,” said Gonzalez. “I have patients that come in from Chihuahua, Guadalajara. I have not figured out or fathomed how people here would go to Mexico."
Perhaps the biggest allure for those considering plastic surgery abroad is the drastic drop in price, and in Juarez procedures are typically 40 percent less expensive.
But even Mexican officials offered a warning when shopping surgery prices.
“Cheaper is not always better,” said Antonio Suárez, commercial director of Juarez Medical Tourism Cluster.
Sometimes a lower price, Gonzalez said, can lead to higher risks.
“These are the types of patients that usually get in trouble because if you don't have insurance, and you're shopping around and you have a complication, what is the ramification,” Gonzalez asked.
ABC-7 took those concerns to the Juarez Tourism office, located a few hundred feet to the right as soon as you cross into Mexico from the Bridge of The Americas.
Inside the building, Suárez showed us about 50 different pamphlets and brochures promoting tourism in our sister city, including medical tourism.
“Of course anybody can say ‘I’m a doctor’ that’s why we created these clusters,” said Suárez.
The concept has been 20 years in the making, and finally came to fruition within the past three years.
The Juarez Medical Tourism Cluster has “around 400 doctors all specialties,” Suarez said. “From dental to ophthalmology —anything you can think of.”
The organization vets medical credentials of doctors.
“You’ll see on their walls Baylor UCLA, you name it — the best schools in medicine there is,” Suarez said. “This is quality, this is the certification, this is the people that went through a protocol, same as in the U.S. or Canada.”
Physicians in the cluster are based at one of the four area hospitals the cluster backed, Hospital Angeles, Centro Medico, Poliplaza and StarMedica.
“We can go to any of these for hospitals and we can show you thousands of cases of the last 10 years with excellent results,” said Suarez.
The cluster accepts American insurance, Suarez added, saying that medical tourism has been happening in El Paso for about 100 years, and that today the competition is field by price, not science.
Both Dr. Gonzalez and Suarez said anytime you go into surgery risks are involved, and research is required before you leap into a procedure.
Dr. Gonzalez said to trust your instincts.
“If it’s too good to be true, it is,” he said.
Laura Avila's doctor was not a part of the Juarez Medical Tourism Cluster, but staff at the Rinocenter in Juarez called in a second medical opinion, physicians from StarMedica started treatment.