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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Everyone thought I was crazy: Medical tourism for a liver transplant

Last year, Kevin Stewart learned he had cirrhosis of the liver, and that a liver transplant was his only option.

He owns a landscape maintenance business in Naples, Florida. Because of the high premiums for self-employed businessmen, he let his health insurance lapse.

Luckily, he had a potential donor – his sister – so he called hospitals to see how much a liver transplant would cost. "It was $30,000 for them to check me out – to see how worthy I was, how badly I needed a liver. And, if they decided I needed a liver transplant, I should pay them $300,000," he said – much more than he could afford.

To look to other countries for medical treatment, he contacted WorldMed Assist, a medical tourism web site. They researched his situation and identified two hospitals that could perform the liver transplant, both in India.

Kevin chose a New Delhi hospital and a surgeon who had already performed 120 liver transplants.

Four months after the transplant, Kevin is doing fine, recuperating in the Florida Keys, and looking forward to getting out on his boa and fishing. The total cost of his treatment and travel to India was less than $90,000 – one-fourth of what he would have paid in the U.S.

"Everyone I spoke to thought I was a crazy person. 'Why would you go there, you're going to get infected, it’s a dirty place….' Now I’m certainly happy to spread the word to people that you do have choices. You don’t have to lay down and die."

Advice to Americans in need of ruinously expensive surgery: Consider other alternatives too.

Read another story of a solution to costly care for a liver problem, or read Greg Allen's source story from All Things Considered on National Public Radio.

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