By Stephanie Stahl


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – There are renewed concerns about the dangers of going overseas to save money on plastic surgery after three Americans have recently died in the Dominican Republic. One of those cases involved liposuction.

Liposuction to get rid of excess fat is one of the most popular types of plastic surgery and it can be a lot cheaper to get it done outside of the United States. But experts say the medical standards and qualifications overseas can be lacking, which can lead to complications that are sometimes deadly.

Maxine David’s phone is filled with pictures of her sister Alexandra Medina, who was unhappy with her appearance.

David says U.S. doctors told her sister that she needed to lose weight before getting liposuction.

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But a Dominican Republic doctor Medina contacted through Facebook had a different opinion.

“This doctor was like, ‘no problem, we can do it, we can handle it, we’ve dealt with bigger women, so come here we’ll do it,'” David said, “and it was obviously also cheaper.”

During liposuction at a Santo Domingo clinic, Medina stopped breathing and died.

The death certificate blamed a fatty tissue embolism – or a blood clot.

Medina is the third American to die in a month undergoing cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican health minister says a full review will now take place.

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“That they’re going to get away with it, that they’re gonna finagle it so it seems like it was accidental and that we’re not gonna get justice,” David said.

Doctors at the Dominican clinic say there was no malpractice, just a tragic complication.

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns Americans of risks associated with plastic surgery in the Dominican Republic.

“There are reasonable facilities in Europe, South America, etc., but they are usually subject to the same set of criteria we have here,” New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center Dr. Henry Spinelli said. “To indiscriminately choose some place on the basis of finances is a grave mistake.”

David says her sister’s cheap surgery came at a terrible cost.

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“Women are going over there for these surgeries, these elective surgeries and not coming out alive,” David said.

By traveling abroad, people can save between 40% to 80% for plastic surgery depending on the procedure and the country.

The practice called medical tourism has been growing and not just for plastic surgery but all kinds of procedures, including dental.

As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for and foreign surgery outcomes, especially in the Caribbean and Central American countries, often isn’t as good as what you will get in the U.S.

Stephanie Stahl

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