Monday, May 26, 2008

Cosmetic Medicine: A Tale of Two Doctors

Article and Photos by Jay Fermin

Glendale, California: I have been very busy seeing doctors lately. No, I am not sick at all. I met up with doctors representing the 'Feel-Good' medical tourism explosion that is now happening in the Philippines. Even a major Philippine newspaper summed it all up with the headline: "RP is the Next Beauty Capital of Asia." I was invited to a press conference last May 3, 2008 of Belo Medical Group on their new partnership with United HealthCare, Inc. (U.S. Healthcare) at a restaurant in Glendale together with civic, business, and media representatives. Belo Medical Group's very own young CEO Enrique Soriano III was on hand to weave us thru the process, amid the chuckle and smiles of those present, and explained what the 'Beauty & Wellness' part of Healthcare is all about.

You see it's all very simple. 'Feel Good' clinics are the favorite first 'Stop-over' of Balikbayans to the Philippines. They make arrangements in advance, the clinic actually can pick them up from the airport upon arrival, there is even a private entrance to the clinics to protect privacy, they are properly screened and tested (pre work-up lab tests), and preparations are done for the actual procedure. After the procedure, they have the luxury of staying in a high-end hotel to recuperate and the clinic requires post-treatment visits to make sure that the procedure went as planned. After approximately a few days to one week (depending on the procedure), these Balikbayans can call their family members and announce their 'Arrival' in the Philippines and, lo and behold, will the family be so shocked on seeing how beautiful, stress-free, and young looking their Balikbayan family member is !!! Thanks to cosmetic medicine.

Newsweek magazine observed that 'Medical Tourism' is an emerging industry in countries like Thailand, Singapore, India, Malaysia and the Philippines. One factor of market attraction is the lower cost overall. From heavy surgical procedures like heart transplants to the easier and less critical aesthetic surgeries like implants, tummy tack, enlargements, nose lifts (the asian style), and liposuction just to name a few, hundreds of thousands have flown out of Europe and North America and have travelled to Asia for their 'wellness' need.

BMG (Belo Medical Group) CEO Eric Soriano III is quick to point out during the powerpoint presentation that the 'Doctor to the Stars' Vicki Belo and her 8 medical clinics located in Alabang, Ortigas, Greenhills, Rustans, Medical Plaza Makati, Thomas Morato, and new locations at Trinoma in Quezon City & in Subic, cater only to the 'feel-good' surgeries and procedures. A hard question from the media on 'sex-change' was referred by CEO Soriano to a full functioning hospital in Thailand who has done hundreds of those procedures.

At Belo Medical Group, they only do the 'beauty procedures' including the new Aqua Liposuction. It is actually a Water-Assisted Liposuction (WAL) that lets the fan shaped water jet infiltrate the fatty tissue to make it more gelatinous for easier extraction. This lessens the problems which were associated with standard, ultrasound, or mechanical assisted liposuction.

On hand at the presscon was United Specialist Healthcare,Inc. (U.S.Healthcare) CEO Dr. Joselito Babaran M.D. who formally announced their 'Memorandum of Agreement' with Belo Medical Group to act as a Wellness Membership Club which plans to bring together networks of highly qualified providers and their prospective clients with an offer of discounted rates. Now, since nobody yet has said anything about prices and how much these procedures costs, the offer of a discount does sound very good to me!

U.S.Healthcare V.P. Lucy R. Babaran R.N., MBA was also on hand to explain that this provider network actually will involve clinics, specialists, hospitals, lab, critical medicine, dental, spa and slimming services and of course Cosmetic / Aesthetic medicine. U.S. Healthcare is neither an insurance nor an HMO - they are the bridge to a network of highly skilled providers and currently are located in Makati City with offices in Encino, California.

CEO Soriano pulls something out of his bag that made all the ladies' eyes light up: samples of Belo's newest derma product line - "Belo Essentials" for slimming, whitening, anti-wrinkle, and moisturizing. Belo Care Inc. is also exclusive distributor in the Philippines of the world famous Beverly Hills-based 'Obagi Medical Skin Care.'

Coming back from the presscon, I cannot connect what was bothering my thought process. Oh yes, now I remember. It was the March 2007 liposuction procedure that Caloocan City 2nd District Representative Mary Mitzi Cajayon had. The procedure was done with consent forms signed but she did not know that she was pregnant. No pregnancy test was administered. She claimed that she suffered liposuction injury but does not have anything personal against Belo Medical Group. Instead, she did what the proper response was, to author House Bill 33417 that proposes to administer a pregnancy test as mandatory in all cosmetic surgery procedures for women.

Here is a video clip of the news reports by ABS-CBN:

After a few weeks, I was in a different restaurant on a quiet evening with "Doctor to the Stars' Dr. Manny Calayan M.D. Members of the media came out to have dinner and have an informal conversation with the doctor. If Vicki Belo has 8 clinics, Dr. Calayan, stressing that he wants to focus on quality, maintains only three. However, the conversation between the Doctor and the members of media who were present centered on one solitary incident: the P26 Million lawsuit that a Businessman patient by the name of Louem Martinez filed with the Makati Prosecutor's Office for ESTAFA, RECKLESS IMPRUDENCE RESULTING TO SERIOUS PHYSICAL INJURY, and OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE.

The patient underwent a "penile enlargement" procedure sometime in September of 2007. The patient at that time told Dr. Calayan that he cannot abide with the 1 month of no sexual activity as he has 3 girlfriends. However, the procedure stipulates to refrain from said activity for one month and it was relayed to the complainant strongly and he was advised to also continually massage the 'body part' to spread the 'aquagel' that the doctor used for the procedure. Aquagel is composed mostly of water and Dr. Calayan states that from previous surgeries (50+), there were no problems at all and the product is safe for use.

Two months after the procedure, instead of seeing the doctor for any complications or discomfort, Dr. Calayan was surprised to receive a letter dated November 19, 2007 from the lawyer of the patient alleging complains of deformity of his 'member.' The formal lawsuit was filed recently at the Makati Prosecutor's Office for a whopping P26 Million !

Over the course of the dinner which was attended by members of Los Angeles Media, Dr. Calayan presented their counter-affidavit together with his wife, Dra. Rosario 'Pie' Calayan, who is named co-defendant in the case, but as Dr. Manny reiterated, was not even involved in the actual procedure! Dr. Manny Calayan narrated that he has given specific post surgery instructions to the patient and does not know if the patient followed these instructions, one being to refrain from sexual activity for one month. In a TV interview, the complainant alleges that he has has not been sexually active since the operation for four months but he was saying previously that since he has three girlfriends, he cannot abstain from sex for one month. I say, let the Court decide.

Here is the video clip from Saksi on the controversy: