Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Costa Rica: Hot Spot for Plastic Surgery

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Costa Rica: Hot Spot for Plastic Surgery

Article excerpt

BIG sunglasses covered Joan Zook's face as she went sightseeing, but they didn't quite block the telltale bruises that identified her as one of a flood of foreigners coming to Costa Rica for cut-rate plastic surgery.

"It's a little embarrassing to go out. You look like your husband beat you up," said Zook.

But it was worth the irritation, the California woman said: "I have to go back to the job market, and I'm 58 years old. I don't want to look 68."

In any given week, some 20 Americans visit Costa Rica for face lifts, tummy tucks, breast jobs and fat reduction. Drawn by low prices, a respected medical system and friendly attention, patients have generated a word-of-mouth buzz.

Arthur Marks, a retired salesman from Pembroke Pines, Fla., said he and his wife, Ada, grew curious when a friend disappeared for a few weeks.

"We asked where she was. They said, `She went to get her eyes fixed,' " he recounted. "When she finally came out of hiding, she looked fantastic!"

After learning that she had the cosmetic surgery in Costa Rica, the Markses decided to travel abroad for facelifts themselves.

"The main reason is the price," said Marks. "It would have cost $16,000 for the both of us in the States. We paid five."

Marks is happy with the result - "I look like a man 50 years old when I'm 72" - while his wife is "half and half" about her own surgery.

"She wanted to come out looking like Marilyn Monroe," said Marks. Still, "We have recommended it to others already. And a lot of them have gone."

At least 28 plastic surgeons practice in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, and a half-dozen of them operate mainly on Americans, doing as many as 300 operations a year.

Several have offices in the Miami area, with assistants who book flights, arrange lodging and schedule surgery, as well as provide references for those skeptical about undergoing surgery in a Third World country.

"They almost always have someone who coordinates things and brings people from over there," said Dr. Carlos Centeno, a Costa Rican plastic surgeon.

The clinics offer slick, English-language brochures and provide packages that include airfare, lodging, sightseeing tours and surgery. One surgeon, Dr. Arnold Fournier, has his own home page on the World Wide Web to advertise his services.

Cosmetic surgery generally isn't covered by health insurance. So, for decades, Americans have headed abroad for cheap surgery, going to Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. Today, San Jose and Mexican cities such as Hermosillo, Nogales and Tijuana are dotted with plastic surgery clinics.

More than a decade ago, the first Americans to head to Costa Rica for surgery were Hispanics, mainly Cuban Americans from Florida. "The Latinos were familiar with Latino surroundings and weren't suspicious," said Dr. Ronald Pino King, who runs a plastic surgery clinic geared to foreigners. …

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