Real-life stories

The gentleman is shown here 7 years after his operation with excellent range of motion and no pain A gentleman aged 40-years came to see us in 2001. He was complaining of severe pain and stiffness in his right shoulder.

On clinical examination and after x-ray evaluation, it was clear that he had advanced osteoarthritis of his glenohumeral (shoulder) joint. Initial conservative management was started including physiotherapy, anti-inflammatory medication and cortisone injections, but all of this proved to be ineffective. He was finding it difficult to do his job as a heavy truck driver, could not sleep at night and was becoming increasingly depressed due to the pain.

For this type of problem, most surgeons would consider a prosthesis (shoulder replacement) but in the light of the fact that such a prosthesis would not last in such a relatively young and active man, this would be the last option. Prostheses in young people may loosen, wear out and there are also other complications like infection, dislocation etc.

We at Joe De Beer & Associates decided to do an arthroscopic resurfacing procedure, using the Graft Jacket membrane. This arthroscopic procedure (Keyhole Surgery) was done in 2002 where the membrane is inserted into the shoulder joint and sutured onto the glenoid (socket of the shoulder). The procedure is done as follows: tiny holes are drilled into the surface of the glenoid to allow bone marrow stem cells to infiltrate into the membrane and start forming new cartilage-like tissue. In the case of this patient, this was highly successful and he became pain-free after a few months and his motion started returning.

At present, seven years following the procedure, he is still pain-free with full range of motion and he was able to continue his job as a driver of heavy trucks. The attached photograph was taken in January 2009, seven years following his operation. In his case the procedure was highly successful and we could avoid prosthesis.

Jerry Mead and Robert Lupo both made their careers in construction, but apart from that, had little else in common. In spring 2009, they found themselves next door neighbors at internationally accredited Wockhardt Hospital in Bangalore, India, both recuperating from Total Hip Replacement surgery. The two became tight friends during their stay. Together, their trip saved them $130,000.

"They're as different as night and day," said WorldMed Assist CEO Wouter Hoeberechts. "Robert is a funny, out-there guy; Jerry is someone who is very interested in the spiritual traditions of India. Who'd have guessed they'd become friends in a hospital in India, a place that only a few months earlier neither had imagined as a destination for surgery."

Lupo had never been on an airplane; Mead had never been in a hospital; and neither had ever imagined a trip to India for surgery. Mead learned about medical tourism and WorldMed Assist through an NPR segment and jumped on the internet to find them as soon as his hip pain made construction work impossible. After carefully researching the options they provided, he chose Wockhardt Hospital and was on a plane two weeks later for bilateral hip replacement in Bangalore India.

Lupo discovered the value a medical tourism facilitator can provide after spending months investigating international options on his own. "I almost threw the computer out the window," he said of the complexities he dealt with trying to choose a country, a hospital and a doctor plus making travel arrangements. Both men sing high praises for Dr. Sanjay Pai, who had done more than 3500 joint replacements before they arrived.

Despite the 2300 miles separating their hometowns, Lupo and Mead have stayed in touch since their return, and are equally sold on the benefits of working through a reputable medical travel company to get high quality, affordable surgery outside the U.S. Watch the video of Mead's experience.

Sandra Giustina She saved for three years, but when Sandra Giustina was told the heart surgery she needed would cost about $175,000, she knew no number of years would give her that kind of money.

An atrial fibrillation, meaning a fast and irregular hearbeat, made Sandra more at risk for strokes. “I was a walking time bomb,” Sandra said to CNN. “I knew I had to get on that plane if I wanted to be around to see my grandkids.”

Sandra was 61 years old and, like 47 million other Americans, uninsured. She couldn’t afford surgery in an American hospital, but searching online showed her a number of places that offered her quality care for a price range that matched her bank account.

A month later, Sandra was on her way to the Max Hospital in New Delhi, India. Her total cost, including surgery, healthcare and travel, was less than $10,000.

Following her procedure, the patient concierge arranged private tours for Sandra and her husband, Dino. Two days after her operation, they hit the local highlights - browsing local markets and touring the Taj Mahal and the Presidential Palace.

“I was able to fix my heart and tour India, which is something I thought I'd never do,” Sandra told CNN. “I shouldn't have waited so long! I feel like a new person.”

Read the full article on

Dodie Gilmore When Dodie Gilmore's arthritis started affecting her hip, life on her 180-acre ranch in Caddo, Oklahoma made the pain extra tiresome.

Dodie wakes with the dawn every morning to feed the cows in the fields and the catfish in the pond. Then it's off to work as a real estate agent - getting in and out of cars to open and close the gates on large zones of land.

Her insurance company called 60-year-old Dodie’s arthritis a pre-existing condition and wouldn't cover hip surgery. In the U.S., the surgery would have cost $28,000 to $40,000, and her company couldn't front that kind of bill.

After searching online, Dodie found a hospital in India that would perform a hip resurfacing procedure for only $7,000. The total cost, including travel expenses, was about $10,500.

Dodie was one of the first Americans sent abroad for surgery that was paid by her employer. Her experience abroad may signal an increase in such procedures.

The Max Hospital infection rates are considerably lower than the standards of the World Health Organization, according to ABC News.

Her surgeon had already performed more than 150 procedures using new titanium pieces that weren't even approved yet by the Food and Drug Administration in America.

While preparing for surgery in a hospital, which Dodie says resembled a fancy hotel, more than 20 attentive staff members came through her room.

"They get to spend a lot of time with you, and they're genuinely concerned about your problems," Dodie told ABC News. "In the states, all I would've gotten, speaking from experience of having a broken leg, is they just buzz through your room and it's just ... very quick, very impersonal treatment."

Read the full article on ABC News.

Ben Schreiner Ben Schreiner had retired from his days as a Bank of America executive. He was no longer under his employer’s insurance and at 62 years old was too young to qualify for Medicare.

Then Ben found out he needed surgery for a double hernia, which cost $14,000. His private health insurance would only cover the amount over a $10,000 base level.

So Ben began shopping for surgeons. From his home in Camden, South Carolina, he was looking at hospitals in places like Ireland, Turkey and Thailand.

His searching eventually brought him to San José, Costa Rica, where he paid only $3,900 for the surgery and related fees. A week after his surgery, Ben and his wife, Pamela, were touring the country. Ben was recovering at a posh resort. Four weeks later, they returned to South Carolina – no complications.

“I didn’t have to fork over my entire deductible,” Ben said to The New York Times. “What’s more, they bent over backwards there to take care of me — no waiting, a friendly staff, everyone spoke English.”

Read the full article in The New York Times.

George Marshall In 2005, George Marshall was a 73-year-old violin repairer from Bradford with little experience travelling outside the country. After being diagnosed with coronary heart disease, he discovered a path more and more UK citizens are following to this day - one that points to healthcare abroad.

Coronary heart disease meant George had clogged arteries which made him more prone to heart attack. Although coronary heart disease is the UK's biggest killer, according to the National Health Service, George was told he'd have to wait up to six months for an NHS surgeon.

The other alternative was to pay £19,000 for surgery in the UK private healthcare sector immediately.

George had only ventured outside of Britain twice before - to Australia and Egypt on holiday. He decided to fly 5,000 miles to the southern Indian city of Bangalore to find a quicker, cheaper and high quality heart-bypass operation.

Surgeons at the Wockhardt Hospital and heart institute treated George, one of the UK's first medical tourists. Wockhardt Hospital is an associate of Harvard Medical International, the global arm of Harvard Medical School. The cost to George for the surgery package, including his flight, was £4,800. The surgery alone would have cost £19,000 in the UK or $24,900 in the U.S. at that time.

George's care at Wockhardt Hospital included an air-conditioned room with cable TV and personal, English-speaking nurses. George had decided on Wockhardt after searching the internet and e-mailing back-and-forth with Wockhardt's vice president and other patients who had visited the hospital.

"Everyone's been really great here. I have been in the NHS and gone private in Britain in the past, but I can say that the care and facilities in India are easily comparable", George said in The Guardian. "I'd have no problem coming again."

Read the full article in The Guardian.

Kelly Bliss-Richards Kelly Bliss-Richards, from Suffolk in the United Kingdom is an experienced medical tourist having travelled to both South Africa and Poland for a variety of procedures over the last five years.

Kelly first started looking into surgery abroad on the Internet in 2003, and made a few enquiries to providers in South Africa, as this was the first destination that appealed to her on her search. At the time she did not follow through with her enquiries, until a year later when one of the clinics she had previously contacted sent her an email brochure, which prompted Kelly to go ahead with her desired treatments. Kelly was motivated by the fact that surgery in South Africa was considerably cheaper than private surgery in the UK, and it also seemed like it would be a great holiday destination.

After deciding to go together, Kelly and her sister-in-law travelled to South Africa for the same treatment packages in 2004. They received a tummy tuck, nose job, liposuction and extensive dental work. They underwent the cosmetic procedures on arrival in the country and then a week into their stay undertook their dental treatment. They were in South Africa for a total of 2 weeks.

The service and care they received in South Africa was first class - they stayed in 5-star accommodation and Kelly feels the medical team and level of aftercare she received was outstanding. They spent their recovery time after surgery lying by the pool and relaxing, which she thinks was a great way to recover after treatment. They were even able to go on a safari during their 2-week stay. The total cost of the trip (including travel, accommodation, medical treatments, aftercare and a safari tour) was £7,500 GBP, which is a considerable saving considering a tummy tuck procedure alone in the UK was priced at £6,500 GBP in 2004. Overall, Kelly had a great experience with her medical travel to South Africa which was arranged through Surgeon and Safari and the procedures performed by surgeon Richard Van der Poel.

A few years later Kelly's Mum was considering having her eyes corrected abroad, and as Kelly had been contemplating getting her breasts augmented, she decide to go with her Mum and keep her company while getting her own treatment at the same time.

Kelly's breast augmentation (or "boob job" as it is sometimes referred to) cost £2,000 GBP (including travel, 5-star accommodation and surgery costs) and she was in Poland for a week in total. Again, this represented a considerable saving on prices in the UK – her friend underwent the same procedure in Birmingham at the same time and paid £5,500 for the procedure. The trip to Poland was organised through Make It In Poland and Kelly's surgeon was Pietr Gnast.

The biggest assistance Kelly had with her travels was that her selected providers in both South Africa and Poland had international patient liaisons, which means she had a central contact person who spoke English and could provide her with the correct information, phone numbers, etc. for her to feel comfortable about her procedures. Kelly feels that she would not have chosen a provider without these points of contact, as they were invaluable.

While Kelly is a definite advocate of medical tourism, she only supports the act of travelling abroad for medical care if the potential patient does their own research and really knows all there is to know about their chosen medical provider. She recommends asking questions, doing extensive research and of particular importance, requesting to talk to previous international patients and get their feedback.

Carol Wiseman Carol Wiseman, from Highbury in London, did not become a medical tourist to save money, but instead to seek a medical specialisation unavailable in her home country. Carol is a true advocate of medical tourism after both herself and her son travelled to the USA in search of a diagnosis that was unavailable to them in the UK and Europe.

Long suffers of an unknown chronic pain in their lower back and legs, both Carol and her son had been to London's top specialists in diagnosis and pain management, and no one could tell them what was wrong, or how to help it. Carol's son, who she believes was truly struggling with his pain; being unable to work and becoming increasingly antisocial, sought his own information on the internet and came across a new type of MRI invented by Dr. Aaron Filler, a neurosurgeon and Director of the Center for Advanced Spinal Neurosurgery in Santa Monica, California. Dr. Filler's diagnostics techniques used a new type of MRI software that is unavailable outside of the USA, and can better diagnose spinal and nerve problems.

After being constantly told in the UK that nothing was wrong with him, Carol's son was diagnosed with Piriformis Syndrome, a neuromuscular disorder that occurs when the sciatic nerve (a large nerve that starts in the lower back and runs through the buttocks and down the leg) is compressed or irritated by the piriformis muscle (a muscle located in the buttocks), causing pain, numbness and tingling in the buttocks and along the sciatic nerve. As a result, he was able to receive the correct surgery, also performed by Dr. Filler, and a year later was able to live a full and pain-free life. Although her symptoms were slightly different to her son's, at the request of her family, Carol followed his lead and booked an appointment in the USA with Dr. Filler, and as a result, was also diagnosed with Piriformis Syndrome.

Although her resulting surgery was not as successful as her sons, Carol does not regret a single penny spent on helping her son, and believes that even just the diagnosis itself was worth the effort. "Just knowing why you have a problem, it just makes you feel better. It's psychological, particularly after being told by everyone that there is nothing wrong with you". She believes there are many people with chronic pain going undiagnosed, and thus untreated, due to limited access to these new technologies, and that therefore going abroad for diagnosis and/or treatment is an excellent option.

Adam Nethersole Adam Nethersole, 31, from Hitchin near London is a seasoned medical tourist who has had a variety of procedures abroad over the last five years. These include cosmetic surgery in Thailand in 2005 following a facial rugby injury and knee arthroscopy surgery in Singapore in 2006 (again, following a rugby injury!). Adam decided to go abroad for surgery as he was able to avoid a waiting list at his local hospital, plus the cost of treatment was around 30% of the cost of private treatment in the UK. In addition to this, after having trouble finding a local NHS dentist, Adam's "local" clinic is now in Barcelona, Spain so he can now combine high quality and affordable dental care with visiting his relatives in the city.

Jane Henry Jane Henry, 32, from Brixton in London went to Budapest for a dental check up and filling treatment care of the British Hungarian Medical Service. She decided to go abroad for dental care so she could combine an overseas city break with more affordable medical treatment at a high quality private practice. Following Jane's lead her father, Bernard Henry, is now planning on combining his holiday to South Africa with the opportunity to undergo some affordable private dental surgery in Cape Town.