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Thursday December 12, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Thursday December 12, 2013 MYT 1:59:54 PM
by ariela navarro
The beauty trade: Billboards announcing discounts on cosmetic treatments are becoming more common in Cali, Colombia. – AFP
The Colombian city closely associated with a violent drug trade is developing a much less unsavoury trade: cosmetic surgery.
ALBA Diaz runs a special kind of hotel. Her guests are foreigners seeking plastic surgery in a Colombian city that’s become a magnet for folks looking for a nip and tuck.
Working in a posh neighbourhood of Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, the 55-year-old Diaz pampers her clients from the time they get off the plane and throughout their stay at her clinic.
She looks after them during their post-surgical convalescence, treating them to special diets and massages. A bilingual nurse who speaks English helps out.
“The most important thing is love, affection. We are here to give a little of it to people who need it while they have left their family, their husband, their children, who are also suffering for them on the other side of the world,” she says, adding that many patients get depressed after surgery.
Her calling started off in a personal way. Her daughter, living in the United States, came home for a tummy tuck with liposuction. Mum’s tender loving care prompted her to suggest Diaz open up the beauty-oriented hotel. It now has a dozen rooms, with prices ranging from US$55 to US$68 (RM176 to RM218) a day.
Business is good because Colombia has a tradition of being a good place for plastic surgery. It is the third busiest in the sector in Latin America, after Brazil and Mexico, and ranked 11th in the world.
Every year more than 200,000 plastic surgery operations are carried out in Colombia, or 3.3% of the world total, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS).
One client, a Spanish male nurse aged 39 who asked not to be named, also came for abdominal surgery. He was prompted to do so by a female Colombian friend who talked up Cali. Besides the affordable price, he says, “It is the quality that counts.”
For Miriam Alvarado, a 53-year-old from Puerto Rico, the decision to undergo surgery in Colombia came after her sister and sister-in-law went under the knife in Cali.
In a matter of two weeks, it was all set: the trip and the operation – one on her chin and liposuction. At home it would have cost her US$14,000 (RM44,933) but in Cali, it cost less than US$4,000 (RM12,838).
And the medical facilities seem better to her.
“In Puerto Rico there are all kinds of surgeons but the post-op treatment is not as advanced as it is here,” Alvarado says.
Another convert is Peter McCabe, a US businessman who lives in Colombia. He had work done on his face, despite warnings from his family not to go through with it. They said, “if you are going to do it, please do it at home,” he says.
But after they saw his new face on Skype, many changed their minds and some plan to jump on a plane to Colombia for a bit of tweaking of their own.
But all this is not without risk.
Between 3% and 5% of patients are not satisfied with the results of their surgery, and that figure jumps to 12% for nose work, says Lina Triana, a surgeon in Cali and secretary of ISAPS. She says there are non-qualified people out there offering operations.
But the good ones are, in fact, really good, she insists.
“Now it is our colleagues in Europe and the United States who must learn here how to sculpt beautiful bodies,” Dr Triana says with a smile.
Technological innovation is one of the strong suits of Colombian doctors, who hold a convention every year to show off their techniques.
For instance, Dr Alfonso Riascos unveiled a special method for carrying out a “facial rejuvenation” without leaving telltale scars near the ears, as is often the case.
“I began more or less five years ago with selected patients and now I have 400,” he says proudly. A third are foreigners. His trademark is a small and discreet 5cm scar on the scalp.
Hotel owner Alba does not expect business to slow down anytime soon.
“We have had family groups, with the father, the mother and three children. One of the daughters brought her husband. They love to have company,” Diaz says. – AFP
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