Plastic Surgery in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has gained worldwide recognition for another of its medical services: reconstructive surgery, commonly known as plastic surgery. San José is becoming known as “Beverly Hills South” because of the number of people going there for body renewal. Several excellent surgeons specialize in face lifts, liposuction, breast reconstruction and other corrections of nature’s mistakes. Not only are Costa Rican plastic surgeons ranked among the best in the world, their fees are based on Costa Rican medical standards. In a word, inexpensive.
Why would Costa Rica be so popular with those wanting to rid themselves of wrinkles? Besides affordable costs and quality surgery, it turns out that San José is a perfect place to slip away to have an operation because of its climate—never hot, never cold—which makes recuperation faster, safer and more comfortable. Since the healing process takes three or four weeks, many patients find this a great time to learn Spanish in one of the many “total immersion” schools around the city. These schools provide for home-stays with a Costa Rican family and have small classes or even individual instruction if you prefer.
Another attractive thing about Costa Rica as a base for facial or other cosmetic surgery is that many folks feel embarrassed about having their friends and family know they are going to have it done. Therefore, a growing number of them vacation in Costa Rica—where they are unlikely to run into acquaintances—have the operation and return home a month later when all traces of the surgeon’s handiwork have disappeared.
San José’s leading plastic surgeon is Dr. Arnoldo Fournier, who did his residency in reconstructive surgery at New York’s Columbia University and who has the oldest established plastic surgery practice in Costa Rica. He says, “Since I started my practice back in 1973, there have been several important developments in reconstructive surgery. Just a few years ago, the common face lift procedure was merely to stretch the facial skin to the sides of the neck and cheeks. This procedure was often unsatisfactory because of a stretched appearance of the face and because the operation had to be repeated when the skin sagged and wrinkles returned after a few years.
“Today, a face lift should be called ‘face remodeling’ because it involves far more than simply stretching the skin. The excess layer of fat is trimmed away from the neck and fat sacks are carefully removed from the cheeks or jowls by liposuction. Then the facial muscles are moved to the facial center and stitched together under the chin. As a result, the neck has been tightened from both sides and from below. This repositioning of facial tissues produces a lasting, youthful and smooth appearance, with a natural touch instead of looking tightly stretched.” Eyelid surgery completes the face lift, and it can be done at the same time although many people opt to have them separately. Dr. Fournier explains, “Puffy eyelids and bags under the eyes, whether congenital or a result of aging, give the appearance of tiredness or sadness, and make a patient look old beyond his or her years. This can be effectively corrected through a surgical procedure called blefaroplasty, and is the operation most frequently requested by men. The procedure involves removing the excess fat that produces the bulging and trimming away the loose skin that makes the under-eye bags. The fine scars are concealed in the upper eyelid crease and in the lower eyelid, just below the eyelashes. They are invisible after three or four weeks. Since the removed fat will never return, the results are more or less permanent.”
What does all of this cost? Happily, the cost of a face lift, a breast job or a tummy tuck with liposuction—including surgery, postoperative care and hospital stay—is less than one might pay just for three days in a hospital in the United States! For example, a complete face lift costs about $4,000, including three days in the hospital. The same operation in New York or Los Angeles would be $22,000, possibly more, depending upon the cost of the hospital room. Dr. Fournier charges $800 to $1,200 for the eye operation when done separately. Nose surgery or liposuction to abdomen and thighs costs about $1,500 to $3,000, compared to U.S. rates of about $10,000 for the same procedures.
How safe is it? Costa Rican hospitals are excellent, with all modern equipment. Personnel are highly trained. Dr. Fournier points out, “Most of my surgery is done under local anesthetic and sedation. The patient is given some pills a couple of hours prior to the operation, and intravenous medication is given by an anesthesiologist during surgery. This is much safer than using a general anesthetic. Some patients just stay one night in the hospital and then check into a bed and breakfast for a few days. Others prefer to stay a while, since hospital rooms don’t cost any more than a first-class hotel.”
For more information, you may write to Dr. Fournier and ask for his free booklet, A Brief Introduction to Plastic Surgery. The address is P.O. Box 117-1002, Paseo de los Estudiantes, San José, Costa Rica, Central America. The FAX number is (506) 2255-4370. This publication explains thoroughly what to expect, illustrates the procedures with detailed drawings and gives preoperative and postoperative advice.

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