I-Team: Burgeoning ‘Medical Tourism' Industry Puts Women at Grave Risk

Local women on a desperate quest to be beautiful are putting themselves in danger in order to save money, an I-Team investigation has found.

Rather than going to certified doctors for cosmetic procedures and surgeries, the women are getting the work done in hotel rooms -- or traveling out of the country.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 750,000 Americans travel abroad each year in search of cheaper medical care. Doing so can save them thousands of dollars in treatment costs, but it can also dramatically increase the risk of potentially severe side effects and health problems.

In 2013, the CDC issued a warning about "medical tourism," saying doctors may reuse needles and engage in other unsafe behaviors that could lead to HIV, Hepatitis and other diseases.

NBC spoke to a transgender woman named Samantha, who said she had a dozen plastic surgeries and procedures, including in hotels. She said she had "a lot of surgeries," with both "good and bad" results.

Samantha's journey started when she traveled from Connecticut to Colombia to get breasts and a new nose when she was just 18. Next, she flew to Mexico to get injections to plump up her buttocks in a hotel that doubled as a clinic.

"You just pay for a package and you just spend and stay there for a whole week until you are all ready to fly back," Samantha said.

At the hotel, she said she put her life and her health in the hands of people whose credentials she hadn’t verified, including a woman referred to as a silicone nurse. If something went terribly wrong, the hotel room wasn’t equipped to treat her, Samantha said. She said she was never seen by a doctor.

But the woman who performed the injections worked for cheap.

"It’s always about saving money," said Samantha.

Back in the states, Samantha said she took another big risk -- attending something called a "silicone party," where people unlicensed to administer the drug in a medical setting rent a hotel room "and then all the girls get together and get pumped."

The injections can be dangerous and are illegal when administered by people without licenses to do so. And it's not always clear what subjects are being pumped with.

Samantha said her friend was injected with a chemical at one of those parties to make her buttocks bigger. Three months later, she was taken to a hospital with an infection.

Samantha said her friend's hospitalized was the wake-up call she needed to stop going to hotels for cosmetic procedures.

Another woman the I-Team spoke to traveled to the Dominican Republic for cosmetic surgery on her breasts, buttocks and stomach. The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said she developed a staph infection shortly after she got home and had to spend a month in the hospital.

“I was so sick that I didn’t know if the infection had traveled somewhere else in the body, they didn’t know why my stomach was so swollen,” she said.

Dr. Scot Glasberg, a Manhattan plastic surgeon and president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, said he sees such cases frequently.

“While you might be in a nice place that feels nice from the standpoint of the sun and things like that, you really don’t know what you’re getting in terms of the real thing that you’re looking for, which is quality plastic surgery done by an expert in an accredited facility," Glasberg said.

Glasberg said cutting corners has a price –- a sentiment that Samantha now strongly agrees with.

"Never again," vowed Samantha. "Never again."

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