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Posts Tagged ‘medical tourrism in Mexicali’

I’ll be writing a new series of articles for the Examiner.com based on my experiences, interviews and observations here in Mexicali, MX and Calexico, California.  While the focus will be on serving the needs of the Calexico community (particularly now that there is a fast pass lane for medical travelers), I hope that all of my loyal readers will continue to support my work.

I have already published my first three articles  – and have added a new navigation section (on the side of this blog) for interested readers.

As part of this, I wrote a story about the good doctor and all of the work he is doing – including one of our recent ‘house calls’ to San Luis, in Sonora, Mexico.   It was probably one of the more difficult articles to write; due to space limitations and trying to present information in an objective fashion.  (It’s hard to present all the evidence to support your conclusions in just a few hundred words;  ie. He’s a good doctor because he does X, Y, and Z and follows H protocol according the P.”  Makes for wordy reading and not really what the Examiner is looking for.

Too bad, since readers over at Examiner.com haven’t had the chance to know that if the opposite is true (a less than stellar physician or treatment – that I have absolutely no reservations about presenting the evidence  and stating the facts about that either..)

Don’t worry, though – I will continue to provide that level of detail here at Cartagena Surgery – where the only limitations are my ability to type, and the (sometimes) faulty keys of my aging laptop.

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I should be finishing my readings in preparation for clinic this afternoon, but after reading most of the day yesterday (it was an international holiday for people living outside the USA), I guess I am entitled to spend some time writing.

Besides, I spent an illuminating morning with Dr. Jose Mayagoitia Witron, MD, FACS over at Mexicali General Hospital.  While he was telling me what he doesn’t do: (no uniport laparoscopic surgery, and not a huge amount of bariatric surgery), what I observed told a very different story.

Dr. Mayagoitia, MD, FACS

I didn’t follow Dr. Mayagoitia to the operating room.  Instead – I accompanied him to a teaching session with his medical students, who presented case studies – and I observed Dr. Mayagoitia instructing his students in the ‘Art of Medicine’.  This skill is fast becoming a lost one in today’s emphasis on the science of diagnostics, and laboratory testing.  But not here, not today – and not with Dr. Mayagoitia.

He believes strongly in the physical examination and all of the wealth of information that it provides.  He also believes it is an underutilized tool to connect doctors with their patients.  As he explains, too often doctors become too busy ordering tests – which separates the doctors from their patients – instead of listening to ‘the person in the bed’.  (My terminology not his).  So during his students case presentations – the emphasis is on the story (the clinical history), the patient’s life (background, social settings, diet, habits) and the clinical physical examination.  Students aren’t allowed to talk about, or ask questions about diagnostic results such as radiographs or serum analysis until the story and the physical findings have been throughly discussed and examined in detail.

Even then – he challenges them – to use more than their eyes – to engage their brains, and their other senses.. “What about the description of this surgical scar?  Does it seem a little large for an appendectomy?” he asks.. “What about it’s location?’ he challenges**..

“What about the differentials?  What other diagnoses should we consider? he asks.  “I know you think the diagnosis is obvious – but give me some alternatives,” he coaxes.  “What else could be going on?  Tell me why you don’t think that it’s X” he asks – making the students review and explore the other possible causes for this patient’s abdominal pain.  “Could it be Z?” he asks.. “Why not?  What else would we see?” he states in reply to a student’s mumbled answer..

Then, only then, do we review the labs, and the films – the more tangible aspects of the practice of medicine.  Those results that students can see easily, (maybe too easily) and tempt them into abandoning the ‘art’ of medicine and patient care.  But he doesn’t allow it – and quickly steers the conversation back to the displayed pathology to this pathophysiology and symptomatology of the patient in question.

As someone who still struggles with the physical skill of percussion – this entry into the art of medicine hits home.  It is an art, and a woefully underappreciated one.

** Please note – these quotes are my best approximation from my translations during the case presentation, and may miss nuances. 

About Dr. Jose Mayagoitia Witron

Dr. Mayagoitia is more than a clinical instructor – he is a respected professor of surgery at the Universidad Autonoma Baja California (UABC) and has been teaching medical students for over 20 years. He also teaches surgical residents and has been doing so for over fifteen years.  He gives lectures daily at the University, in addition to his busy schedule as the Supervising Surgeon for the Intensive Care Unit at Mexicali General, and private surgical practice (with evening clinic hours).

He speaks in clear, unaccented English (my southern accent is thicker than any accent he might possess) which may be as a result of his fellowship training in San Diego.   He completed his general surgery residency right here at Mexicali General after attending UABC).

He remains active in the research community as a supervisor for resident research projects including two ongoing projects worthy of note: a new study looking at the treatment of open abdomens, (from massive trauma, infection, etc.) and a study looking at the early initiation of enteral feedings versus delayed (72 hours or greater) in surgical intensive care patients.

He, along with his wife, Gisela Ponce y Ponce de León, MD, PhD (a family medicine physician and instructor at the UABC nursing school) recently presented a paper on obesity research in Barcelona, Spain.

He does all of this in addition to a steady diet of general surgery (cholecystectomies, appendectomies, bowel surgery (such as resections) and the occasional bariatric surgery.  As one of the lead surgeons at a major trauma hospital** – he also sees a considerable amount of emergency and trauma cases.

He reports that on the last – bariatric surgery, he has mixed feelings.  While it has become a popular staple for the treatment of obesity and obesity-related complications – he questions it’s role in a society that steadfastedly ignores the causes.  “I wonder if we will look back one day and realize that we [surgery] did a real disservice to our patients by doing so much of this.”  So, while he does perform some bariatric procedures, he is very selective in his patients.  “It’s not a quick -fix, and they are going to be dealing with this [changes from bariatric surgery] for the rest of their lives so they [patients] need to understand that it’s a lifelong endeavor.”  When he does perform bariatric procedures, he prefers the gastric sleeve, which he believes is more effective [than lap-band, and smaller procedures] but less devastating in terms of complications and dramatic life alterations.

Dr. Jose Mayagoitia Witron, MD, FACS

General surgeon, Fellow in the American College of Surgeons

Edificio Azahares

Av. Reforma 1061 – 6

Mexicali, B. C.

Tele: 686 552 2400

** He reports that Mexicali General, as a public facility, sees about 80% of all traumas in the area.

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Note:  I owe Dr. Vasquez a much more detailed article – which I am currently writing – but after our intellectually stimulating talk the other day, my mind headed off in it’s own direction..

Had a great sit down lunch and a fascinating talk with Dr. Vasquez.  As per usual – our discussion was lively, (a bit more lively than usual) which really got my gears turning.  Dr. Vasquez is a talented surgeon – but he could be even better with just a little ‘help’.  No – I am not trying to sell him a nurse practitioner – instead I am trying to sell Mexicali, and a comprehensive cardiac surgery program to the communities on both sides of the border..  Mexicali really could be the ‘land of opportunity’ for medical care – if motivated people and corporations got involved.

During lunch, Dr. Vasquez was explaining that there is no real ‘heart hospital’ or cardiac surgery program, per se in Mexicali – he just operates where ever his patients prefer.  In the past that has included Mexicali General, Issstecali (the public hospitals) as well as the tiny but more upscale private facilities such as Hospital Alamater, and Hospital de la Familia..

Not such a big deal if you are a plastic surgeon doing a nip/tuck here and there, or some outpatient procedures – okay even for general surgeons – hernia repairs and such – but less than ideal for a cardiac surgeon – who is less of a ‘lone wolf’ due to the nature and scale of cardiac surgery procedures..

Cardiac surgery differs from other specialties in its reliance on a cohesive, well-trained and experienced group – not one surgeon – but a whole team of people to look out for the patients; Before, During & After surgery..  That team approach [which includes perfusionists, cardiac anesthesiologists (more specialized than regular anesthesia), operating room personnel, cardiology interventionalists and specialty training cardiac surgery intensive care nurses]  is not easily transported from facility to facility.

just a couple members of the cardiac surgery team

That’s just the people involved; it doesn’t even touch on all the specialty equipment; such as the bypass pump itself, echocardiogram equipment, Impella/ IABP (intra-aortic balloon pump), ECMO or other equipment for the critically ill – or even just the infrastructure needed to support a heart team – like a pharmacy division that knows that ‘right now’ in the cardiac OR means five minutes ago, or a blood bank with an adequate stock of platelets, FFP and a wide range of other blood products..

We haven’t even gotten into such things such as a hydrid operating rooms and 24/7 caths labs – all the things you need for urgent/ emergent cases, endovascular interventions – things a city the size of Mexicali should really have..

But all of those things take money – and commitment, and I’m just not sure that the city of Mexicali is ready to commit to supporting Dr. Vasquez (and the 20 – something cases he’s done this year..) It also takes vision..

This is where a company/ corporation could come in and really change things – not just for Dr. Vasquez – and Mexicali – but for California..

It came to me again while I was in the operating room with Dr. Vasquez – watching him do what he does best – which is sometimes when I do what I do best.. (I have some of my best ideas in the operating room – where I tend to be a bit quieter.. More thinking, less talking)..

Dr. Vasquez, doing what he does best..

As I am watching Dr. Vasquez – I starting thinking about all the different cardiac surgery programs I’ve been to: visited, worked in – trained in.. About half of these programs were small – several were tiny, single surgeon programs a lot like his.. (You only need one great surgeon.. It’s all the other niceties that make or break a program..)

All of the American programs had the advantages of all the equipment / specialty trained staff that money could buy***

[I know what you are thinking – “well – but isn’t it all of these ‘niceties’ that make everything cost so darn much?”  No – actually it’s not – which is how the Cardioinfantils, and Santa Fe de Bogotas can still make a profit offering world-class services at Colombian prices…]

The cost of American programs are inflated due to the cost of defensive medicine practices (and lawyers), and the costs of medications/ equipment in the United States****

the possibilities are endless – when I spend quality time in the operating room (thinking!)

Well – there is plenty of money in Calexico, California** and not a hospital in sight – just a one room ‘urgent care center’.  The closest facility is in El Centro, California – and while it boasts a daVinci robot, and a (part-time?) heart surgeon (based out of La Mesa, California – 100 + miles away)– patients usually end up being transferred to San Diego for surgery.

Of course, in addition to all of the distance – there is also all of the expense..  So what’s a hard-working, blue-collar guy from Calexico with severe CAD going to do?  It seems the easiest and most logical thing – would be to walk/ drive/ head across the street to Mexicali.. (If only Kaiser Permanente or Blue Cross California would step up and spearhead this project – we could have the best of both worlds – for residents of both cities.. 

 A fully staffed, well-funded, well-designed, cohesive heart program in ONE medium- sized Mexicali facility – without the exorbitant costs of an American program (from defensive medicine practices, and outlandish American salaries.)  Not only that – but as a side benefit, there are NO drug shortages here..

How many ‘cross-border’ cases would it take to bring a profit to the investors?  I don’t know – but I’m sure once word got out – people would come from all over Southern California and Arizona – as well as Mexicali, other parts of Baja, and even places in Sonora like San Luis – which is closer to Mexicali than Hermasillo..  Then Dr. Vasquez could continue to do what he does so well – operate – but on a larger scale, without worrying about resources, or having to bring a suitcase full of equipment to the OR.

The Mexican – American International Cardiac Health Initiative?

But then – this article isn’t really about the ‘Mexican- American cross-border cardiac health initiative’

It is about a young, kind cardiac surgeon – with a vision of his own.

That vision brought Dr. Vasquez from his home in Guadalajara (the second largest city in Mexico) to one of my favorite places, Mexicali after graduating from the Universidad Autonomica in Guadalajara, and completing much of his training in Mexico (D.F.).  After finishing his training – Dr. Vasquez was more than ready to take on the world – and Mexicali as it’s first full-time cardiac surgeon.

Mexicali’s finest: Dr. Vasquez, (cardiac surgeon) Dr. Campa(anesthesia) and Dr. Ochoa (thoracic surgeon

Since arriving here almost two years ago – that’s exactly what he’s done.. Little by little, and case by case – he has begun building his practice; doing a wide range of cardiovascular procedures including coronary bypass surgery (CABG), valve replacement procedures, repair of the great vessels (aneurysm/ dissections), congenital repairs, and pulmonary thrombolectomies..

Dr. Vasquez, Mexicali’s cardiac surgeon

Dr. Cuauhtemoc Vasquez Jimenez, MD

Cardiac Surgeon

Calle B No. 248 entre Obregon y Reforma

Col. Centro, Mexicali, B. C.

Email: drcvasquez@hotmail.com

Tele: (686) 553 – 4714 (appointments)

Notes:

*The Imperial Valley paper reports that Calexico makes 3 million dollars a day off of Mexicali residents who cross the border to shop.

***In all the programs I visited  – there are a couple of things that we (in the United States do well..  Heart surgery is one of those things..)

**** Yes – they charge us more in Calexico for the same exact equipment made in India and sold everywhere else in the world..

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Had a great day in the operating room with Dr. Cuauhtemoc Vasquez, MD the promising young heart surgeon I told you about several months ago.  I have some absolutely breathtaking photos of the case – but I want to double-check with the patient before posting anything potentially revealing in such a public forum.

Todays’ surgery was at one of the public hospitals in Mexicali – and while technology was sometimes in short supply – talent sure wasn’t.  I was frankly surprised at the level of skill and finesse Dr. Vasquez displayed given the fact that he is so early in his career.

Dr. Cuauhtemoc Vasquez, Cardiac surgeon

He’s also just an all-around pleasant and charming person.  I know from previous encounters that he’s well-spoken, interesting, engaging and an excellent conversationalist –  We didn’t talk at length on this occasion – because honestly, I really don’t like to be distracting during cases – especially since much of the discussion was in an English-heavy Spanglish.. (He is fluent in English but we both tend to slip in and out of Spanish.  I mainly slip out when I start thinking in English and come across a concept that I am not sure about explaining or asking about in Spanish.**

But don’t worry – I am planning on seeing him next week – where I can hopefully lure him to lunch/ coffee or something so we have a more lengthy discussion – so I can give you all the details in a more formal fashion in a future post.

As a crazy side note – finally got that ‘great’ picture of the good doctor.. Oh, the irony – not during a thoracic case but while he was assisting Dr. Vasquez – (the good doctor is board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon, after all..) I didn’t post it here because there are some ‘patient bits’ in the photo..

**I know this can be frustrating from my experiences with my professor – but it’s also frustrating when: a. a question gets misinterpreted as a statement (because of my poor grammar) or b. misconstrued completely – which still happens pretty frequently.  Luckily, people around here are awfully nice, and tend to give me the benefit of a doubt.

Also – I need to post this photo of one of my favorite operating room nurses – Lupita.  (Lupita along with Carmen and Marisol) have been an absolute delight to be around even of those very first anxious days..

Lupita, operating room nurse.. Doesn't hurt that she's as cute as a button, eh?

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Update:  May 15, 2012:  Newest estimates place the 6 year murder total at 55,000 for Mexico.  This latest incident in Monterrey is just heart-breaking – Monterrey used to have the reputation of being the safest of ALL Latin American cities.

As I’ve said before, Mexico border towns have a nasty reputation – and have had this reputation for decades.  Recently, it’s gotten worse, and the state department has issued multiple warnings to American travelers.

In fact, if you scan the headlines of American newspapers – you get the impression that it’s spiralled into open warfare in the streets..  and maybe it has in other cities, (notably Juarez).  But Mexicali – well I am just not sure.

The feeling of fear is notably absent here.  That wasn’t the case during my visits to Bogotá and Medellin, which were terrorized by Pablo Escabar and his minions in the 80’s and 90’s.  Despite dramatic decreases in crime in Bogotá (where I spent the majority of my time in 2011) the populace remained afraid – and acted accordingly.  It wasn’t unusual to see security guards armed with machine guns outside private businesses and on street corners in more affluent neighborhoods.   Hospitals were another secured environment – as someone who toured multiple institutions in that city – I endured countless scrutiny from security officials who searched all bags, and parcels and demanded documentation before allowing entry.

Security on a street corner in an upscale Bogota neighborhood

Admittedly, all of that seemed excessive to outsiders like me – who never had to deal with the violence (bombings and killings) that native Bogotanos endured.  But still, many Bogotá residents remained afraid – including my friends and neighbors who were often horrified by my adventures into the southern parts of the city.

But it doesn’t feel that way here – my friends never caution me about my travels; women don’t travel in packs – gripping their belongings tightly to their chests, taxis aren’t viewed as potential vehicles for kidnapping, rape or extortion.

I live just a few streets from the main trauma hospital, and while I occasionally hear sirens, it isn’t incessant (I heard more living next to the trauma hospital in Flagstaff, Arizona), and I have no way of knowing whether it’s police, fire or ambulances.

But I also study at that same hospital, and while I see ambulances bringing in patients strapped to gurneys, they haven’t been gunshot victims, or blood-splattered people who I’ve seen wheeled inside.  I’ve wandered around the ER with my instructor on several instances, and see a lot of the usual – people having heart attacks, strokes, respiratory problems..  Certainly none of the blood and guts from a typical episode of Gray’s Anatomy..

In fact, during my entire month here so far – we’ve only had one patient that had been stabbed on our service – about the same frequency as I saw in my native Danville, Virginia, which is a sleepy southern town.

But then again – maybe that’s the lure; as this 2009 LA Times article suggests that this apparent ‘tranquility’ is part of a larger plot orchestrated by drug cartels..  I kind of have a harder time believing that – I just don’t think that organized crime is so effective yet scattered – that they can prevent bank robberies, etc.. in one city – and have gun battles in the streets with police in neighboring cities..  The local Calexico paper also carried a similar story in 2010- but it’s not well written and makes some pretty larger leaps..  ( I have a much easier time believing the statistics presented by Professor Torres – which show Mexicali to have fewer homicides than Tijuana (somewhat lower than expected but no astronomical deviations from norms.). In his report, he concedes that Mexican homicide rates overall exceed that of the US, but that Mexicali itself compares with Savannah, Georgia (which has only about 1/3rd of Mexicali’s population.)

Does that mean I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, or that I think Mexicali is crime free?  Of course not – as a city (any city) with almost a million residents, there is certainly crime, and drugs.. and with this – usually comes violence..   But how much?  I suspect some of  the hoopla is politically motivated and carefully crafted rhetoric, like suggested in this 2011 USAToday article..

So, in order to find out more about the realities of the situation – I am planning on asking the director of the emergency room (who I met on a previous visit), if I can come hang out this Saturday night – and get a better feel for the situation..

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well, I guess we all knew what was coming next.. There was no way I could really stay still – and not interview some more surgeons while I was down here. So I thought I would start with two more specialities that are near and dear to my heart – and those of my readers; cardiac surgery and bariatric surgery.

I will be talking to Dr. Vasquez – who you may remember from a previous post (during an earlier visit to Mexicali) and Dr. Horatio Ham, a bariatric surgeon who also hosts the radio show, Los Doctores on 104.9 FM.

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