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Americans head to Mexico for plastic surgery

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On a recent afternoon, Jose Amezcua fights through rush-hour traffic in Guadalajara on his way to visit Guerra and her sister-in-law. Mr. Amezcua spent his professional life in tourism, until he moved into the plastic surgery industry six years ago: Today he is the driver for Air Lift Inc., a North Carolina-based company that connects women who want liposuction or an eyelift with a bilingual driver, a room and all meals at a private home, and a surgeon in Guadalajara.

Door-to-door service

He picks them up from the airport, takes them to their initial appointments with the doctor, and drives them home after surgery. "The women are often nervous," he says, "but these two at least understand some Spanish."

When he arrives at their bed-and-breakfast, Guerra is sitting at the kitchen table. "I was always scared to go to Mexico," says Guerra, rattling off the botched jobs she's heard of. But Imelda Baldini, who provides the shelter for Air Lift Inc., dotes over Guerra in her home. The mother of four grown children, she giggles over her own fussiness. "My children are gone," explains Ms. Baldini, who serves her patients food in bed when they don't feel well. "I think about if I went to another country for surgery, I would want a parent there."

"She's better than a mom," says Guerra.

As it is for other types of medical tourism, to places as far away as India and Thailand, price is the driving factor in going abroad for care. Jose Guerrerosantos, who is doing Guerra's surgery, says that a "tummy tuck" that costs $4,000 in Mexico would be $15,000 in the US. At least three Americans a month receive his care, he says.

Tour operators like Air Lift Inc. make the process much easier. Beverly McCarter has been running the company since 2001, and says since then some 600 Americans have traveled to Guadalajara for the firm's services. Her company works exclusively with Dr. Guerrosantos, a widely respected doctor who trained in the US. The public hospital bears his name, and he does reconstructive surgery for free there.

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