Privacy, low cost makes Costa Rica a hot destination for tummy tucks
By Catharine Reeve
Special to the Tribune
SAN JOSÈ, COSTA RICA- After gastric bypass surgery last September; Gail Burns lost 75 pounds, bringing the 5-foot-6inch former real estate agent down to 165 pounds. Although happy with the weight loss, Burns now had loose and sagging skin.
“I needed a tummy tuck,” said Burns, 55, who began contacting plastic surgeons in the Atlanta area where she lives. On a Budget, she wanted a breakdown of the costs (surgery, anesthesia, hospital stay, etc.) and a total, but doctors would only give estimates. When one estimate hit $18,000, Burns took her research to the internet, and soon surfed her way to an obesity surgery site group on Yahoo ( httpgroups.yahoo.comgroupossgplasticsurgery ). “And that,” she said, is where I heard about Costa Rica.”
Fast forward six months. It’s April, and Burns is in San José, Costa Rica, recovering from surgery performed at the Rosenstock – Lieberman Center for Cosmetic Plastic Surgery, one of the largest centers for plastic surgery in that country. Not only did she have a $3,500 tummy tuck, but also a $2,800 face lift and a $1,500 liposuction procedure for her waist. The prices included doctorsç2 fees, facility costs and overnight stay, anesthesiology, a personal nurse and all medications. Her cost beyond the round –trip plane fare was $70 per night, including meals and transportation at Che Tica, an 80-acre recovery retreat she select for her 13 night stay.
Burns is a happy camper. Her surgeries have gone well, and despite her expectations, she has had virtually no pain.
“On a scale of 1-10, I’d put the pain at .5,” she said. She also was pleased with Che Tica, for its caring atmosphere and the lush tropical flowers and trails. Burns is not alone. For years Americans have taken “health vacations” in Costa Rica, a country whose medical system the United Nations ranked among the 20 best in the world in the 1980s. Costa Rica’s medical care, its low cost and the privacy it offers those who don’t want it know that they are having work done continue to be attractive as cosmetic surgery becomes more popular among Americans.
More than 1.6 million people had surgical cosmetic procedures in the U.S in 2002, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, and another 4,9 million people had non-surgical procedures like Botox injections and chemical peels. Those figures do not include the Americans who head to Costa Rica and other countries for eye lifts, face lifts, liposuction, tummy tucks, rhinoplasty and breast surgery.
Burns” surgeon, Dr. Rashi Rosenstock, says his center’s four physicians (Rosenstock , his father Noe Rosenstock, and his brother in –law Joseph Cohen)perform more than 900 surgeries annually on patients from the U.S. The cost, he says, is 30 to 40 percent of what it is in the U.S.
And that’s a significant difference. The Arlington Heights based ASPS gives the following average for surgeon’s fees in the U.S. Face lift, $5,352; tummy tuck, $4,739; liposuction, $2,074; rhinoplasty, $3,469; and breast augmentation, $3,436. The costs do not include anesthesia, operating room facilities, or other related expenses.
When Betty Pappas, a registered nurse from La Salle, III, who lost more than 70 pounds after a mini-gastric bypass in 2000, wanted eyelid and arm lifts, a face lift and a tummy tuck, she chose the Rosenstock Lieberman Clinic. But all did not go as hoped. Pappas developed a seroma (fluid) that forced the incision for the tummy tuck open and necessitated an extra week’s stay in Costa Rica and further treatment when she returned to the States.
“My problem had nothing to do with the surgeon’s skill, “she says. “It was due to the reaction of my body. It is very important for people to realize that complications can occur with any procedure. It is also important, whether having surgery in the U.S. or out of the country, to select a doctor who has been in business for a while is board certified in that that field, and to talk to previous patients who have used that doctor or clinic.”
Pappas, 53, a nurse for the Illinois Department of Public Health, followed her own advice regarding her surgeons. All are board certified, have done part of their training in the U.S., have been in practice for years, and all offered references from previous patients.
In 2002, Pappas returned to the Rosenstock –Lieberman clinic for a breast lift, thigh lift and extensive liposuction. She went again in May for more liposuction and a hair transplants. Pappas says that the $16,700 she paid for her surgeries would have cost her between $60,000 and $75,000 in Illinois.
Because few of Costa Rica’s surgeons advertise in the U.S., most new patients hear about them through word –of-mouth referrals and Internet support groups.