Denied a hip replacement at age 80, man gets what he needs in Costa Rica

MedVacation does not offer orthopedic surgery procedures. Nevertheless, we thought the article was great and spoke about the quality of work available outside the U.S.

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By Ilene Little / Aug 10

On June 30th, an eighty old year man denied a hip replacement in the U.S. got the surgery he needed in Costa Rica.

That’s the story you’re hearing here from Bill Buiten, a Biscayne Bay, FL. Resident who sought surgical relief for hip pain he had suffered for 25 years as a result of falling off a ladder in 1985.  He claims he was turned down by more than 10 orthopedic surgeons.

Why?  Buiten says he can only guess at why, and “I certainly can’t prove it, but it became pretty clear to me that:

  1. Part of the reason, depending upon which surgeon you were talking about, they didn’t want to do any surgery on me is because I was a Medicare patient and surgeons don’t get paid very well by Medicare;  and so they just push off the Medicare patients with various excuses.
  2. My age was used as an excuse not to do the surgery, and
  3. My case was atypical.  The x-rays don’t quite look the way they want to see it; so they’ve got another excuse for not doing it.”

“It wasn’t a bone on bone situation they like to see in an X ray”, he explained, “I had synovitis and the orthopedic surgeons have such a narrow focus that they don’t want to hear or see anything that’s unusual.  And if it is unusual they don’t want to mess with it.”

This is harsh condemnation, but nevertheless I think when you listen to the podcast of this interview you will hear Buiten’s sincerity and won’t dismiss him as someone who just has an axe to grind.

Click here to download audio Interview with Mr. Buiten

Buiten’s was trained as a chemical engineer and over a period of years owned several businesses – and his ability to articulate in the interview gives you an honest perspective.

Call it Medical Tourism, Medical Travel – or more accurately Travel for Surgical Procedures

What’s really important here is that Buiten did find a surgeon – he just had to go out of the country to find one.  And according to Buiten, that surgeon, Dr. Oscar Valverde, said, “that surgery should have been done years ago.”

Buiten said Valverde told him, “‘Your hip was bad.  It was pretty messy.  If you couldn’t get it done in the States it’s a good thing we’re doing it here because it really needed replacing.  Your self-diagnosis was right on the money.  The whole joint was full of fluid and it was that fluid that was eating up the joint and also giving you the pain.  It was atypical but it definitely needed doing as long as it had been painful for all those years’.”

How to Find a Doctor in Costa Rica

Buiten did his own research on the internet.  “I did what I usually do in trouble, I go to the internet and did my own research.  I punched in terms for medical services in Costa Rica,” said Buiten.

“I goggled medical tourism.  There was a phone number to call and I called it and I got this guy, Tim Morales, the owner of CostaRicanMedicalCare”, said Buiten, “He explained he was a facilitator and that if I had a need to go to Costa Rica he could help.  He asked me ‘What do you need?’ and told me he’d call the hospital and have them contact me.”

One day after talking to Morales, the hospital in Costa Rica contacted Buiten.  They exchanged several emails, and he emailed the hospital his completed health history.  The doctor reviewed his records and accepted him as a candidate for surgery which Buiten was able to schedule for the very next week.

Morales arranged for Buiten to have his surgery at La Católica Hospital where one of the uniques is the onsite Hotel Católica owned by the hospital.  Buiten and his wife, Bernice, never had to leave the combined hospital hotel grounds during their 10-day stay.

Comparison of Customer Service

Buiten told us he is truly amazed by the personal care and consideration he received in Costa Rica.

“Everything went smoothly,” said Buiten, “My wife and I flew down from Miami, arriving in Costa Rica on Monday, June 28th.  “On Tuesday they did the pre-opt, and on Wednesday they did the surgery.  I spent two days in the hospital and eight days in the Hotel Católica for post-op recovery.”

“Here in the U.S. the pre-op takes a month; they shoo you from one testing lab to another and the doctor has to review it and it literally takes close to a month before you can get anything done,” said Buiten.

“Our doctors work so hard at not getting sued that if they need two tests they do 10,” commented Buiten, “In Costa Rica it took a day.  They went through it very systematically and they got me in for prep for the surgery about 2 o’clock on Wednesday afternoon.”

“During my interview before surgery with Dr. Valverde I told him that all of my adult life my right leg has been about 3/8” shorter than my left leg.  He told me he might be able to do something about that,” said Buiten.

“After surgery I was complaining that the muscles in my groin were really sore and I didn’t know why.  ‘Oh’, he said, ‘I know why, I made your right leg 3/8” longer and those muscles don’t like it’.  I really appreciated that,” Buiten said.

“It was really as pleasant an experience as they could make it.  I was on my feet in two days,” said Buiten, “And the doctor gave me his cell phone number and email address.  He encouraged me to contact him directly with any questions.”

Tim Morales called me the day after I got home to see how it was going and ask if there was anything else he could do,” said Buiten, “I didn’t expect that.”

“And by the way, the people there at the Hotel Católica couldn’t have been nicer,” said Buiten, “They even visited me in the hospital while I was there.  And the hotel staff, it didn’t matter what we asked for, they were always willing to help – day and night – and if we didn’t go to them, they would come to our room.”

In stark contrast to the way he was treated in Costa Rica, Buiten called his family doctor, a few days after his return to the States, to ask his advice on where he should go to get his stitches removed.

“I wasn’t even allowed to talk to the doctor, even though I’m his patient,” said Buiten, “The receptionist said they didn’t offer that service and when I asked her to ask the doctor, she relayed the message from him that I should go find a surgeon or go to the Emergency room. “

“I wasn’t comfortable with a 5-6 hour emergency room wait so I requested that she ask the doctor about going to an urgent care center,” Buiten said.  “I got a message from the receptionist on my phone saying the doctor didn’t’ know anything about urgent care centers but I could try one if I wanted or go to the emergency room.”

“That was the sum total of how they treated me,” said Buiten, “so I found an urgent care center on my own.  It was just absolutely the opposite of how I was treated in Costa Rica.”

Medical Cost in Costa Rica

“If they had told me it was $50,000, I would have written the check because I felt like I absolutely needed to do this,” said Buiten.

“For the surgery and the couple of days in the Hospital Católica the bill was $11,500 – which was a bargain as far as I was concerned,” he said, “The plane tickets for my wife and me totaled about $800, and the Hotel Católica bill was just short of $1,600 for the two of us –  for two weeks and three meals a day for each of us.”

Two important take-aways:

  1. Had Buiten not done his own research or allowed himself to be dissuaded by any number of experts, he would have had to settle for a lesser quality lifestyle by far, and
  2. This story is a great case in point that there are many seniors – and certainly Baby Boomers – who are Internet savvy – and it’s a mistake to underestimate their resolve and their skills.

Buiten’s dogmatic determination paid off with a successful outcome.  His self-diagnosis was corroborated by the condition of his hip joint revealed during surgery.  That has to feel good.