Weight loss surgery in Mexico- is it safe?
Posted April 5, 2018 11:22 a.m. EDT
PHOENIX, Ariz. — Save lots of money and get really skinny. It's a compelling offer that's tempting thousands of people who are told: Weight loss surgery in Mexico is safe.
That wasn't true for Jessica Ballandby. On Tuesday, two years after ABC15 first broke the story, a multi-million dollar, class-action lawsuit was filed. It claims Jessica was deceived by an Arizona woman who recruited patients for doctors in Tijuana.
In the first part of our exclusive investigation (in the player above), we have the terrifying warnings from patients nationwide, including Jessica, who says she was butchered and left for dead. Horror stories.
"I look like Frankenstein in my stomach," one patient claims.
Packed with jaw-dropping details.
Of unimaginable pain and excruciating loss.
All blamed on Dr. Mario Almanza, who touts himself as the leading weight loss surgeon south of the border.
"It's like a pig farm. That's what he's treating human beings over there like. Just like a pig, slaughtering them," says Jessica Ballandby. She wanted to get weight loss surgery to be healthy.
"I was thinking long term effects of being able to support my two kids," she explains.
Jessica admits she didn't think twice about crossing the border for surgery.
"It's over 12-15 grand here in the United States." And that wasn't a possibility for her.
Jessica says the gastric sleeve procedure came highly recommended, "Like 60 people I knew from Show Low had gone down there."
They were all referred by Sandy Brimhall from Snowflake, Arizona, who admitted in a 2015 interview aired on ABC15, she collected $250 for people she sent to surgeons in Tijuana. "I've brought close to 300 people down here," Sandy said.
She raved about Dr. Almanza. When Jessica researched him online, she discovered the Medical Tourism company, Weight Loss Agents. The company's website features hundreds of happy patients who enthusiastically endorse Dr. Almanza. Jessica says she trusted what she thought was an official recommendation.
"I had no reason not to believe them. I had no reason not to believe Sandy either," explains Jessica.
But, the real story is written in the fine print under the "Terms" section. It says Weight Loss Agents is not a medical referral service and does not endorse, recommend or approve any... healthcare provider... listed in this site."
Weight Loss Agents is not named in the class-action suit. But, Sandy is -- for $3 Million. She didn't have a disclaimer.
Jessica scheduled the $4,700 Gastric Sleeve procedure with Alamanza. But, never expected what would happen next.
"I woke up from surgery and I was feeling the most pain I'd ever felt in my life," Jessica says.
But, her complications got even worse.
"You could literally take my hoodie and ring it out & blood was dripping from it. I'm thinking what the heck is going on with me? I'm going to die over here and never see my family again," Jessica remembers.
Somehow, she survived the trip home to Show Low, Arizona, which is where we met her family. They shared the horrifying details from when they knew something was wrong.
"She was falling over, she couldn't walk, she really couldn't even talk or eat or anything," her son Mitch Ballandby says.
Jessica's mom, Becky Leech, says she prepared for the worst.
"It was like she was dead. She wasn't coherent," she explains.
A trip to the emergency room delivered devastating news. "My spleen's been cut," Jessica explains. "He said you're bleeding internally,"
"She had a massive, massive infection inside her body," Jessica's mom remembers.
Surgery after surgery, week after week, doctors tried to fix Jessica, but her stomach had been shredded.
Her mom was distraught. "He ruined her. We have no guarantee of what her life is going to be like."
Jessica was 31-years-old when she went to Mexico. She weighed 251 pounds. Now, she weighs 102 pounds and she just keeps losing. It's a dangerous reality.
"I feel like I'm 64 years old," says Jessica. "My body hurts every single day."
And, the weight isn't the only thing she's lost. Jessica thumbs through stacks of papers, reading the numbers aloud, " $16,403.40. $19,110. $100,993.91..."
It's close to half a million dollars. "Maybe a little less, maybe a little more," Jessica says.
None of it is covered by insurance because she chose to have surgery in Mexico. Their stance: if you pay for your surgery, you pay for your problems.
"People are putting their whole entire faith into this and it's the end of their lives," Jessica says. "I can't die. My boys need me. They're my world."
We've confirmed: 4 Americans have died after having weight loss surgery with Dr. Almanza.
We called his office in Tijana and they said the unhappy patients featured in this story were bribed by a disgruntled employee who wants to ruin the doctor's reputation.
Almanza is not part of this class-action lawsuit. But, Sandy Brimhall is. In part two of our exclusive investigation, we uncover her shocking sales pitch and why an Arizona school district is being sued for $10 Million because of what she did.