A recent weight loss patient claimed that they went to Mexico to undergo life-threatening weight loss surgery. Four people from Arizona are suing three doctors in Mexico who performed surgeries as well as companies in the U.S., which they claim arranged for those surgeries and referred the patients to those doctors.
One patient is Dana Thomas, who was struggling with her weight problem for decades. There was a time in her life that she weighted around 290 lbs and that was the most difficult time of her life.
“I’ve been overweight since I was 16,” Thomas told CBS News’ Anna Werner. “My weight was killing me and I needed to do something about it.”
Her doctor suggested gastric sleeve surgery, a procedure where a surgeon removes some 80 percent of the stomach. People eat less, and lose weight. But it can cost up to $20,000 in the U.S. and Thomas’ work insurance didn’t cover it. Then she found an online company, Weight Loss Agents, offering to help people get the procedure in Tijuana for $5,000, with a doctor named Mario Almanza. She says she and her husband did their research.
“So we were comfortable in the fact with what we knew. It’s what we didn’t know that would have stopped me altogether,” Thomas said.
What they didn’t know? That some patients who’ve gone to Mexico have suffered serious consequences, says Dr. Samer Mattar, who heads an American Bariatric Surgeons’ group.
“They are attracted there because of deep discounts to have these operations over there,” Mattar said. “Unfortunately, some of them come back with complications that we have to take care of.”
Six days after surgery, back in the U.S., Thomas wound up in an emergency room where doctors found she had a hole – a leak – in her gastric sleeve, and a life-threatening infection. They called her family to her bedside.
“I was scared to death,” she said. “I just hoped that they would make it in time so I could tell them I loved them and give my last hug.”
Dr. Almanza got lucky as he wasn’t sued by this patient. However, four Arizona residents have now filed a class-action lawsuit against Dr. Almanza, two other Mexico-based doctors and associated U.S. companies, accusing them of fraud, and saying they concealed “the risks and dangers associated with having bariatric surgeries done in Tijuana.” Weight Loss Agents is not named in the lawsuit.
About the lawsuit
Almanza claimed that the lawsuit were just made to blackmail him. He noted that it was a former employee trying to blackmail him, then offered some of his former patients $500 apiece to complain about him.
He told Werner there was a campaign in opposition of me to take away my prestige.
But we also found two families who say their loved ones died after surgeries by Dr. Almanza. Their deaths also referenced in that lawsuit.
It could have been made up by the patients, Dr. Almanza told us. He says he hasn’t seen death certificates to prove they died from his surgeries.
And what about Diana Thomas? He claims she too was bribed. Thomas says it’s ridiculous — $500, she says, wouldn’t have made a dent in her $300,000 in medical bills, bills that forced her to declare bankruptcy.
“My hope is to bring awareness to what can happen…. I want him stopped, because it’s not just me.”
Weight Loss Agents says it has no legal ties to Dr. Almanza’s medical practice but helps with scheduling, transportation, and other services. It says safe treatment is its “paramount goal” for customers and it warns patients of possible risks. Another doctor named in that lawsuit told CBS News having it in Mexico was a good thing because people are desperate and often can’t afford it in the U.S.