A plump bottom, full hair, a firm forehead: Turkey enjoys a good reputation when it comes to cosmetic surgery and welcomes patients from all over the world. The low prices also attract many customers from Germany – that doesn’t always go well.
Istanbul – Ulrike Hamann* was unlucky. The story of the 64-year-old actually began the way she had always wanted.
The Hanoverian travels to Antalya in southern Turkey in 2021 for a stomach reduction. In the following months she loses over 30 kilos. Then the skin hangs, Hamann is planning another trip to Antalya, this time for a facelift. An operation she will regret later.
Hamann is one of many who travel to Turkey for beauty procedures. In the previous year alone, so-called health tourism, which also includes beauty procedures, brought in a total of 2.1 billion US dollars (currently the equivalent of 2.1 billion euros) for the country. According to the Turkish statistical office Tüik, a good 640,000 people traveled as “health tourists” in the pandemic year 2021. In the first half of 2022 there were already almost 600,000.
Around 2,000 hair transplants are carried out in Turkish clinics every day, according to the state news agency Anadolu, citing the Turkish Health Tourism Association Tüsatder. 70 percent of the patients come from Europe, 30 from the Arab world for treatment in Turkey.
4000 euros for a facelift – flight included
Hamann finds her doctor through an agency. She then “examined” it – and was not only guided by the before and after pictures on Instagram. This type of advertising practice is prohibited in Germany, but not in Turkey. She decided on the operations in Turkey because the prices in Germany did not correspond to her budget. The facelift in Turkey cost her 4,000 euros, flight included.
“The procedures in Turkey are on average 30 to 50 percent cheaper than in Germany,” says cosmetic surgeon Bernd Loos. He takes a critical view of the trip to another country for surgery. “The doctor has never seen the patient before. When they get there and the doctor sees that the body isn’t up to something, he probably won’t cancel the surgery again.”
However, Loos has no doubts about the training and skills of the surgeons. One could certainly make a mistake when choosing a surgeon in Germany, “but the chances are smaller”.
In her first conversation with the German Press Agency in February 2022, the Hanoverian Hamann is still enthusiastic. The excess skin under the chin is gone, the cheeks are smooth. Due to a small correction, she flies back to Turkey in April. But instead of a corrected cheek lift, she wakes up with a numb eyebrow.
Back in Germany, a thread suddenly looked out of her cheek. Over the next few months, it became increasingly clear that the operation had not worked, Hamann says today. The skin gave way, “I now look like I did before the operation”. An acquaintance to whom she recommended the doctor was also “totally botched”. Photos show large scars down the center of her legs from the woman who had a thigh lift.
Counseling and support for patients
The American Sarah Muna Kasule wants to prevent experiences like these. The founder of the service providers Surgery Savior and Surgical Match and her six employees advise and accompany tourists who travel to Turkey for cosmetic or health surgeries.
“The problem is that most people want to get a bargain,” says Kasule, who lives in Istanbul. In her opinion, the fact that beauty tourism is booming in the country is not due to the price – but to the quality.
Turkish doctors are also experienced because of the large number of treatments and are often well qualified – you just have to find the right one. “However, it is difficult for patients to research which Turkish doctors are qualified and are members of the right medical associations in Turkey, Europe or the USA.”
Kasule’s offer includes everything from translation assistance, advice on finding a doctor to inflatable chairs – especially for patients who are not allowed to sit on hard furniture for six to eight weeks after buttock augmentation, the “Brazilian Butt Lift”. Her top priority is patient safety, she says.
reports of deaths
Again and again there are reports of tourists dying after cosmetic surgery in Turkey. The British Foreign Office writes in the travel advice for the country that at least 20 people have died as a result of “medical tourism visits” since 2019.
Kasule knows these cases from direct contact with patients, but also with the board of directors of the Turkish Tourism Association for Health Travel. Many foreigners come to Turkey and want to do everything at once – a so-called “mommy make-over” for example, i.e. a breast operation and a tummy tuck. This is a great strain on the body – and potentially dangerous.
In addition, follow-up care is often inadequate. She is therefore often contacted after the operations by desperate patients who ask her for a private nurse or other support services.
The pensioner Hamann has now hired a lawyer. The clinic has now offered her a full refund in exchange for a non-disclosure agreement. With the money she wants to have another facelift done by a surgeon in Hamburg next spring. dpa