Special Report: Operation Vacation

(NEWSCHANNEL 3) - Would you travel to a foreign country for a medical procedure?

According to the CDC, around 750,000 people in the U.S. travel abroad for care each year.

Newschannel 3's Jessica Harthorn talked to a nurse from Portage, who went to Tijuana, Mexico for a surgery that changed her life.

It's called "medical tourism," a fancy name for traveling to another country for medical care.

Advocates say patients can save up to 70 percent, when signing up for everything from plastic surgery to heart surgery.

There are, of course, risks involved, but the young woman we talked to says if she had the chance, she'd do it all over again.

"My sister thought I was absolutely crazy," said 24-year-old Amanda Kretschman.

After years of struggling with her weight, Amanda made a decision that some would call extreme.

"I've heard horror stories," she said.

She traveled to Tijuana, Mexico with her fiance Felix, for bariatric surgery.

"She definitely had to convince me, it took a long time for me to actually want to let her do something like this, and do it outside of the U.S.," said Hernandez.

After months of research, she choose Baja Bariatric.

She flew to San Diego, where a patient coordinator picked them up, drove them across the border, and straight to the beach.

Then the couple was taken to a 5 star hotel, for a taste of the culture.

Hours later at the hospital, she was prepped for surgery.

"I was praying for her. I just wanted to make sure she would make it out ok," said Hernandez.

Amanda says the surgeon took this picture of her stomach--85 percent of it, to be exact--which was removed from her body.

"Why did I do this? My stomach hurt, I was in so much pain when i first woke up," Amanda said she thought at first.

However, a week later, Amanda was back to work in Portage, Michigan. And she said there were no complications whatsoever.

As far as the final price tag?

Amanda: "My flight and the surgery, i think 56 total."
NC3: "56 hundred?"
A: "Yes."
NC3: "And you saved how much?"
A: "About $20,000."

And all that money she saved is now going to her honeymoon, and wedding invitations.

"Two lives, two hearts join together in friendship, united forever in love," Amanda said.

So far, she has lost 61 pounds in 60 days. David's Bridal heard her story and let her exchange her dress to 3 sizes smaller, for free.

The before and after pictures speak for themselves.

Amanda tells us her goal is to lose 150 pounds, but Felix says his love for her isn't measured that way.

"It doesn't matter to me what she feels like she looks like. To me she is beautiful," he said.

The CDC says the risks of medical tourism depend on where you go, and what procedure, but general issues have been identified:

  • Doctors may reuse needles between patients.
  • Medication may be fake or of poor quality.
  • And the blood supply in some countries comes primarily from paid donors and may not be screened, for HIV.

So here are some tips from the c-d-c to reduce the risks:

  • Make sure you have a written agreement with the health care facility or the group arranging the trip, that defines treatment, supplies, and care.
  • Determine what legal actions you can take if anything goes wrong.
  • Get copies of all your medical records before you go home.

The Medical Tourism Association also says, make sure the healthcare facility is with Joint Commission International, an organization that accredits hospitals in the same way its sister organization accredits hospitals in the U.S.

Check to make sure the doctor is certified, and ask to talk to patients who have undergone the same procedure.