Get­ting a nip/tuck in Cali

The Colom­bian city closely as­so­ci­ated with a vi­o­lent drug trade is de­vel­op­ing a much less un­savoury trade: cos­metic surgery.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By ARIELA NAVARRO

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 53year-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

The beauty trade: Bill­boards an­nounc­ing dis­counts on cos­metic treat­ments are be­com­ing more com­mon in Cali. — AFP photo

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