JONESBORO, AR (WMC) - A $4,000 weight loss surgery in Tijuana, Mexico has left 40-year-old Tamika Capone likely battling a deadly bacteria infection for the rest of her life.
“I would rather be fat, fatter. I would have rather be where I was than to be going through what I am going through,” Capone said.
Capone now owes more money in hospital bills than if she had the weight loss surgery here in the U.S.
When diet and exercise failed to keep the weight off after a car accident left her disabled, Tamika turned to surgery.
Her husband’s insurance wouldn’t cover the gastric sleeve procedure where surgeons would remove part of her stomach. So she took a friend’s success story of her weight loss surgery at Grand View Hospital in Tijuana for only $4,000 and booked that day.
“I set my plane ticket. I set my date. Thirty days later I was in Tijuana,” Capone said.
In October, Tamika flew to San Diego. There, the hospital bused Tamika and others across the border to Grand View Hospital.
"All the sudden you pull up and there’s this big ole gigantic building and it says Grand View Hospital," Capone said.
Despite its luxurious appearance, on the day of the surgery Tamika began to notice red flags. The staff were not wearing gloves and she even had to walk into the operation room herself.
The surgery took 30 minutes. She says the complications began immediately.
"Haven’t felt right, didn’t feel right since and it was like getting worse and worse," Capone said.
Five days after surgery, she bled through bandages and her clothes at the airport and passed out on the plane as she flew back to Memphis.
In the month after she returned home, she was in and out of Jonesboro hospitals for fevers, pain and fluid in the abdomen from a leak in the wound.
Weeks went by without doctors realizing Capone had a rare and possibly deadly strain of a bacteria known as Pseudomonas.
The drug-resistant infection was finally diagnosed in December by a Little Rock infectious disease doctor. The only possible cure, according to the CDC, was an IV antibiotic from the 1940s with hazardous side effects.
"I had to choose between this infection and trying to get rid of it and killing my kidneys. So I was like let's try it," Capone said.
Side effects of the drug forced Tamika to stop treatment shortly after it began, leaving her body to now battle the infection on its own.
"My life was worth more than $4,000 and now look at me," Capone said.
Capone has since lost 46 pounds since the surgery, but the real loss she says is knowing she may never be well again.
A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the doctor who performed weight loss surgeries in Tijuana.
Capone is also working with an attorney to stop Americans from going to the hospital for weight loss surgery.