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Dangers of medical tourism in spotlight after Americans are killed in Mexico

Plastic surgeons based in the U.S. say there are numerous safety concerns.

ATLANTA — The U.S. Attorney General promises to be relentless in the pursuit of justice for four Americans who were attacked in Mexico. Two of them were killed.

Family members say one of the Americans was there for plastic surgery, and now the situation is shedding a light on the dangers of so-called medical tourism, which in recent years has skyrocketed as people look for low cost surgeries.

But, as the number of people traveling abroad for cosmetic surgery increases, double-board-certified plastic surgeon, Sabin Lovell, said there are a lot of safety concerns.

“It can turn into a tragedy, just like we saw recently with the poor Americans, who were killed and kidnapped in Mexico,” said Lovell.

RELATED: 2 Americans kidnapped in Mexico back in US, rushed to hospital; 2 dead

The four U.S. citizens were abducted in broad daylight. Two were killed. Retired FBI agents tell NBC News it shows the danger of crossing the southern border into territories run by drug cartels - even if the goal is to get inexpensive medical procedures. 

But, the risk of traveling to other countries for these procedures goes beyond crime and safety, another plastic surgeon said.  

“Often times they don’t have the regulatory scrutiny that we have in the U.S., so the facilities, the medication and even the doctors (can be risky),” added Dr. Wright Jones, the owner of Muse Plastic Surgery, who is also double-board-certified. 

And, Jones said without strong regulatory guidelines the probability of complications increases. 

“There was a study that I came across a couple years ago that looked at 53 patients that traveled out of the country and presented to that facility. Out of the 53 patients, 37 of those patients had soft tissue injuries and most of that was due to infection,”  said Jones.

An Atlanta native who relocated to Mexico last year, Teasha Chestnut, offered additional context though - relaying that her experience with the local medical system has been all good. 

“Even though it’s cheaper than what we’re paying in the U.S., it’s still quality service. I’ve had to see a doctor and a lot of time it's even more convenient," she said. "You can even call a doctor to your home. Get your prescriptions delivered to your home. I’ve had doctors come and take my blood work at my home."

Chestnut added that, like anything else people, should do their homework. 

“You have to always do your due diligence and research and know what you’re getting yourself into. But Mexico as a whole the people, the culture, has always been welcoming," she said.

As for Lovell, she said ultimately safety should always win out. 

“You don’t know who’s operating on you when you go to these foreign countries and they’re people and the doctors, they’re not held to the same standards as we are here," she said.

The two surviving Americans are back in the U.S., getting medical care.


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