Her family had no idea where she was.
Then they got a call informing them that 51-year-old Irma Saenz, of Los Angeles, had gone into a coma in Tijuana, Mexico – the result, doctors said, of complications from liposuction she had gone to Mexico to undergo, CBS LA reports.
Her family “didn’t recognize her because her face was very swollen,” Irma’s sister, Carmen Quintana, told CBS LA. “The only way to tell it was her was by the feet.”
Saez was taken from Tijuana to San Diego, Calif. to receive medical treatment, CBS LA reports, but she died on Nov. 11 from the surgery’s complications.
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Liposuction is a cosmetic surgery that reduces the number of fat cells in specific part of the body, resulting in changes to body shape that are generally permanent, according to Mayo Clinic. But it carries risks, like any surgery, including bleeding, negative reactions to anesthesia, infection and more.
Liposuction is the second most common cosmetic procedure in the U.S., after breast augmentation, with more than 235,000 procedures in 2016, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
But for some Americans, surgery abroad can be an appealing — and affordable — alternative.
“[Medical tourism] is a rapidly growing market, and we have relatively little data on the extent of this practice,” Dr. Doug Esposito, a medical epidemiologist with the CDC’s Travelers’ Health Branch, told Time Magazine. “We need to understand the nature of the problem and the risks people might be experiencing.”
Time reports that 750,000 Americans leave the country for medical care or plastic surgery each and every year — and that 90 percent of those who went abroad for cosmetic surgery said they did it, in part, because of cost.
Getting plastic surgery done abroad can save Americans up to 88 percent, Time reports.
Saenz’ deadly surgery has her family warning other families about the potential dangers of cosmetic surgeries.
“It’s not worth it,” Carmen, Saenz’ sister, told CBS LA. “It wasn’t worth it for my sister.”
Saenz had taken an Uber from Los Angeles to the Mexico border on Oct. 27, her nephew, David Reynoso, told KTLA. Once she arrived in Tijuana, she had the procedure, relatives told KTLA.
Then, something went wrong.
“She suffered lack of oxygen which caused significant brain injury,” Nora Saenz, her niece, told KTLA.
Relatives hurried from the U.S. to Mexico as soon as Saenz’ Uber driver encouraged doctors to call Saenz’ boyfriend about her deteriorating condition, relatives told KTLA. Doctors at the San Diego hospital they brought Saenz to told relatives that her ventilation tube wasn’t put in correctly, meaning she could have gone without oxygen to the brain for some time, they said.
The family has created a GoFundMe page to help cover the cost of transporting Saenz from Mexico to the U.S.
“My condolences and prayers to the family,” one woman commented on the fundraising website. “This really hits home as I recently lost my 18-year-old daughter 7 months ago the exact same way.”
Among her family members, Saenz had been known for her devotion to taking care of her 99-year-old mother, according to CBS LA.
“It’s sad,” her niece, Nora, told CBS LA. “The one time she did something for herself she paid a high price.”