The Dominican Republic has a history of 'plastic surgery tourism' that has led to hospitalizations and deaths

  • Earlier this month, a New York man and an Alabama high school teacher died in separate instances related to receiving plastic surgery in the Dominican Republic.
  • On June 7, 45-year-old Alicia Williams, a ninth grade English teacher at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama, died after complications from an undisclosed cosmetic procedure.
  • Days later, Manuel Jose Nunez, 28, died after a liposuction procedure inside the Caribbean Plastic Surgery Clinic in Santo Domingo.
  • The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has no current warnings against travelling to the country for plastic surgery, but has issued such warnings in the past.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

The Dominican Republic has a history of “plastic surgery tourism,” where people travel to the country for low-cost procedures that have led to a number of hospitalizations over the years.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has no current warnings against travelling to the country for plastic surgery, but has issued such warnings in the past.

Earlier this month, a New York man and an Alabama high school teacher died in separate instances related to receiving plastic surgery in the Dominican Republic.

On June 7, 45-year-old Alicia Williams, a ninth grade English teacher at Huffman High School in Birmingham, Alabama, died after travelling down to the Dominican for an undisclosed cosmetic procedure on June 2. Following the procedure, she suffered complications, including blood clots.

Days later, Manuel Jose Nunez, 28, died after a liposuction procedure inside the Caribbean Plastic Surgery Clinic in Santo Domingo, according to Pix 11.

A spokesperson from Caribbean Plastic Surgery told local media, translated by Pix 11, that the liposuction procedure was performed by a gynecologist named Oscar Polanco.

Polanco was previously denounced by the Dominican Society of Plastic Surgery for claiming to be a plastic surgeon, Fox News reported.

US officials have warned against “medical tourism” in the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic was named the place a US tourist is most likely to incur complications from plastic surgery, according to a 2018 report from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital-Harvard Medical School and Boston University of Public Health.

A team from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston told DailyMail.com in March that the Dominican Republic might be the most dangerous place to travel abroad for plastic surgery.

And in 2016, US health officials issued a warning about “medical tourism”after at least 18 women were infected by disfiguring bacteria after undergoing plastic surgery procedures in the Dominican Republic.

The infections, caused by a germ called mycobacteria, led to women being hospitalized and forced to take antibiotics for months, the CDC said at the time, according to CBS News.


Read more:
An Alabama high school teacher who went to the Dominican Republic for plastic surgery died after complications from the procedure

New York area-based plastic surgeon Dr. Steve Fallek who heads Steve Fallek Plastic Surgery and is the medical director at Beautyfix Med Spa, told INSIDER that a main incentive for medical tourism is lower costs, but going abroad can cause problems in the long run.

“You’re going into the great unknown to save a couple of dollars,” he said. “The best case scenario is that you’re happy and everything is fine, but the downside can be really bad.”

Dr. Fallek said patients who go abroad risk encountering bacteria that they haven’t seen in the US, drinking unsafe water, and travelling on a plane shortly after surgery, which can increase the risk of developing blood clots and pulmonary embolism.

He also said when someone goes down to the Dominican Republic for cosmetic surgery, they might not be protected by medical malpractice insurance.

“It’s not that the doctors don’t necessarily know what they’re doing, it’s that if there’s a problem or complication, you essentially have nobody to protect you,” he said.

Credentials and after-care can be limited when seeking cosmetic surgery abroad.

In a 2018 article for the medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), author and ASPS member Steven P. Davison urged people not to seek out medical tourism, which he called a “growing, unregulated industry.”

“While patients may be attracted by the lower costs for plastic surgery and other procedures performed in other countries, they must also be aware of the potential risks – legal as well as medical,” he said.

ASPS said in a pamphlet about cosmetic tourism that it can be difficult to assess credentials outside of the United States, and follow up care can be limited.

Davison noted that it’s particularly difficult for doctors to manage the aftercare of a patient who they didn’t initially operate on. “Local doctors may not know what surgical techniques the physician used in the initial operation, making treatment difficult or nearly impossible. Revision surgeries can be more complicated than the initial operation and patients rarely get the desired results,” the pamphlet said.

The two recent plastic surgery deaths come amid news of several US tourist deaths at all-inclusive resorts in the Dominican Republic.

Several US tourists have died from heart attacks, pulmonary edemas, or other apparent natural causes while staying at all-inclusive resorts in the Dominican. Two other US tourists died in a car crash on the country’s notoriously dangerous roads.

The US State Department told INSIDER that the number of deaths isn’t unusual.

“Speaking generally, we have not seen an uptick in the number of US citizen deaths reported to the Department,” a spokesperson for the State Department said.

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