Devastated families are warning of the dangers of cut-price weight loss surgery in Turkey, as British surgeons reveal botched operations are becoming a “major problem”.
Thousands of desperate patients are gambling with their health by opting for bargain bariatric surgery, medics say.
Waiting lists for NHS weight-loss surgery are up to five years, while private surgery in the UK costs up to £12,000.
In comparison, people struggling to lose weight can buy procedures such as gastric sleeves and bypasses for £3,000 at some Turkish hospitals, including hotels and flights.
But increasing numbers of desperate patients are returning home needing corrective surgery and aftercare, concerned British doctors report.
At a recent medical conference every bariatric surgeon in the room reported problems treating patients returning from Turkey with complications.
Serious issues can include internal bleeding, hernias and infections that require emergency surgery.
Other patients need ongoing dietary support as they struggle with common problems like acid reflux.
Surgeons told the Mirror they are seeing a “continuous stream” of patients needing help – with some seriously ill Brits told by Turkish medics to fly home and head straight to an NHS hospital.
Chillingly, doctors warn people are even risking their lives through botched ops and poor aftercare overseas.
Two heartbroken families have spoken of their suffering after loved ones hoping to slim down never returned, warning: “It’s not worth it”.
New mum Khelisyah Ashamu, 26, flew to Izmir with a group of people she met on Facebook after struggling with weight gained during pregnancy.
The IT worker died a week later after suffering complications, leaving her 11-month-old son Cairo, to be raised by his grandparents.
Builder Joe Thornley, 25, died after a gastric sleeve procedure in Istanbul.
The surgeon told Joe’s devastated mum that he had a cardiac arrest, but a post-mortem revealed he had suffered internal bleeding at the site of the op.
And Shelby Carol spent two months in intensive care in Turkey after developing sepsis and will have to be fed through a tube for the rest of her life.
She said she was left “constantly starving”, adding: “It has ruined my life.”
The warnings come after the Foreign Office revealed 20 Brits have died during medical tourism trips to Turkey since January 2019.
Members of the British Obesity and Metabolic Surgery Society are launching a nationwide audit to assess the scale of the problem.
There are also fears the bill for the NHS could stretch to a seven-figure sum, as life-saving surgery for severe complications can cost £50,000 per patient.
Omar Khan, a consultant bariatric surgeon who performed two corrective surgeries in a week, branded it a “major problem”.
He said: “There is a perception that weight loss surgery is a bit like a tummy tuck. The problem is that when bariatric surgery goes wrong there’s the potential for catastrophic problems.”
He added: “If there is a leak it can cause really severe infections and it needs to be managed quickly, appropriately and effectively.”
The problems were not necessarily a result of poorly skilled surgeons but a lack of aftercare, he said, adding that allowing patients to fly home days after major surgery was “indefensible”.
Specialist surgeon Nick Carter said: “I have had disasters of people who have had emergency operations a day or two after their procedures in Turkey and they have come back with issues. I have someone with mesh sticking out of their abdominal wall.
“One case presented... and [surgeons] had left some dead tissue inside them and they needed emergency surgery.”
It was happening in “every hospital” in the UK, Mr Carter said.
He added: “Every bariatric surgeon I talk to has the same story.”
Some patients are encouraged to fly home from Turkey unwell and go straight to an NHS hospital, Mr Carter said. He added: “I have also heard from patients who say ‘I was poorly and they just pushed me out of hospital’.
“It would be wrong to say that’s happening in all Turkish hospitals, but certainly it is happening in some.”
Patients claim they are booked in for surgery by English-speaking agencies with little-to-no screening for their suitability for the operation. And while some return happy with the results, those who suffer complications struggle to find any recourse against medics in Turkey.
Ahmed Ahmed, a consultant bariatric surgeon and Council member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, said he had seen increasing numbers of patients who had bariatric surgery abroad being left with serious complications requiring further surgery in the UK. Sometimes this was due to “a lack of post-operative follow up”, he said, continuing: “We strongly advise patients who are considering undergoing bariatric or other types of surgery abroad to research their options carefully.”
He added: “While it may appear cheaper to undergo surgery abroad, standards and guidelines vary from country to country.”
Joe, age 25
Internal bleeding after op
Happy-go-lucky builder Joe Thornley 25, booked a £3,000 operation online in a bid to slim down his 19-stone frame.
He only told his mum about the sleeve gastrectomy surgery the day before he was due to fly to Turkey.
Julie, 58, said : “It looked like a nice hospital and it had good reviews. I didn’t think anything would go wrong.”
Two days after his procedure in December 2019, she was told by police her son was dead.
The grieving mum said: “A few days later the so-called surgeon rang me and said he had a cardiac arrest and he couldn’t save him. I believed him.
“But when we had his body back the post-mortem found he had bled at the site of the operation. He died of internal bleeding.
“It was the aftercare, or they didn’t realise he was bleeding.”
More than two years later she and husband Michael, 69, from South Normanton, Derbys, have been unable to hold anyone at the Istanbul hospital accountable.
Julie warned others: “I would tell anyone to be very, very careful where you go.
“Or don’t go at all.
“It’s not worth it.”
Died after bypass
Khelisyah Ashamu’s parents begged their daughter not to go to Turkey for weight-loss surgery.
The new mum, 26, was desperate to shed her baby weight after seeing snaps taken at her son’s christening.
So 11 months after giving birth the IT worker booked a cut-price trip to Turkey for £3,000 surgery.
Mum Toyin, 58, said: “We tried to dissuade her from going. I even found an article about somebody else that had gone to Turkey and died and I sent it to her.
“But because that person was in their mid-40s she believed it would not happen to her.”
An inquest into Khelisyah’s death earlier this year found she switched from a gastric sleeve to a more complex bypass at the last minute. She was rushed back into theatre and later placed in an induced coma but died a week later.
Her surgeon had performed only 100 bypasses, the inquest heard.
Khelisyah’s parents, from Romford, East London, are locked in a battle with the hospital and are raising her son Cairo, now four. Her dad Oyebanji, 61, spoke out about the risks of such operation.
He said: “They trivialise it and make out like it’s some minor surgery.
“They told her afterwards she could go to the beach.”
Maimed and must be tube fed
Shelby Carol will have to be fed through a tube for the rest of her life after her botched gastric bypass.
The 50-year-old spent two months fighting for her life in a Turkish ITU ward which she said was “infested with rats”.
After she was sent home she needed a further four corrective surgeries in Britain.
Shelby, whose real name we have agreed not to use, developed sepsis and contracted a rare strain of MRSA after she suffered a leak in her bowel at the hospital outside Istanbul.
The £5,000 procedure has left her scarred, suffering with PTSD and unable to eat a meal again after undergoing skin grafts and total gastro-intestinal reconstruction.
She said: “It has ruined my life. I can’t even take a tablet. I have to crush tablets and put them up the tube.”
Shelby has been unable to contact her surgeon in Turkey since the op in November 2019.
The hospital told her worried dad that the doctor was “on holiday” and later that he had “been in an accident”.
She said she was discharged with sepsis and told she could fly, but had to be carried off the plane when it reached the UK.
Shelby, of Bolton, Gtr Manchester, added: “British doctors said, ‘Who on earth has done this to you? They have maimed you for life.”