Three Cosmetic Surgery Deaths in Tijuana Raises Alarm About Illegal Clinics

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In Tijuana, three people died from cosmetic surgeries in the last month, raising the alarm about illegal clinics in Mexico's main medical tourism destination, especially for Americans. 

The president of the College of Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgeons of Baja California, Laura Cárdenas Mata, expressed to a news agency her concern about the negative impact that this generates in the medical sector of the region, considered one of the world’s main capitals of medical tourism, with about 2 million visitors per year. 

Cárdenas Mata stressed that about 90% of the patients they treat come from abroad. They even provide them with special attention, by picking them up at the airport and taking them to where they’re staying. 

"The country that most people come from is the United States, followed by Canada and the U.K.," she said. 


The doctor mourned the three deaths that occurred due to cosmetic surgeries, stating that two were for surgical intervention and one was for a weight control procedure.  

Among the deceased is María José Chacón, wife of Henry Giovanni Ortiz, the Guatemalan consul from Denver, Colorado. Chacón died on July 5, reportedly being operated at the private Hospital Jerusalem, located 6 miles from the border Port of San Ysidro. Although, Yolanda Gómez, legal representative of the Hospital Jerusalem, assured to TELEMUNDO 20 that the surgery was not performed in its facilities. 

Erwin Areizaga, head of the State Commission for the Protection against Health Risks, told a news agency that Hospital Jerusalem had been operating without a license for two months, but its operators continued to treat patients illegally. 

"Currently, it has a definitive suspension with which it cannot operate under any circumstances," said Areizaga who stated the hospital faces a fine of $1.85 million and will face an investigation by the Attorney General's Office in Baja California. 

The second death occurred on July 20 at the "Mi Doctor" Hospital. The person identified as Robert from Tennessee died two days after having undergone weight loss surgery.  

The authorities took Robert's body to the Forensic Medical Service, but neither they nor the hospital has issued any statement on the case. 

The most recent death was that of Lilian Gastélum Flores, 36, who lost her life on July 27 inside the facilities of "Diagnosis Hospital", a center that operated in secret. 

Gastélum Flores was a real estate agent and mother of three, according to her sister Ana Karen, who accompanied her on the day of the surgery, had "complications in the operation of the devices", and died during liposuction. 

On the day of her death, Ana Karen shared with the media that between the moment her sister entered the operating room and when the doctor notified her of her death, an hour had passed.

“It means that my sister was in there for an hour and I, as a family member, had no updates being inside the office, having not moved for a single minute," she denounced. 


Cárdenas Mata said that Alexander Leroy Llamas, the doctor who treated Gastélum Flores, was not licensed to be a public surgeon and was actually a veterinarian. 

Mata warned that a census conducted by the college showed that in Tijuana alone, there are more than 300 surgeon imposters, also known in Spanish as, "charlatanes". 

For this reason, the State Commission announced last Tuesday the campaign, "Tu Belleza con Certeza” to verify clinics operating in the state.

So far this year, 78 clinics have been closed. 

The governor of Baja California, Marina del Pilar Ávila, also promised an initiative that she will present to the local Congress to regulate these clinics more severely and avoid imposters.  

This story was originally reported by NBC 7's sister station, Telemundo 20. To read the article, click here.

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