Medical Tourism Patient Fights For Life Again
By Jennifer Kraus
NewsChannel 5 Investigates first introduced viewers to Rhonda Christian back in May after she'd gone to Mexico for weight-loss surgery and ended up nearly dying.
Following her progress ever since, we were preparing to update the story and let viewers know how well Rhonda was doing and how much her health had improved.
It turns out, she's had a major setback and now Rhonda is once again in the fight for her life.
"I don't know what we're going to do now," said Rhonda's mother, Marcy Christian, fighting back tears.
Christian and her husband, John, are stunned by how quickly things changed.
Just a couple of weeks ago, their daughter Rhonda was up, walking around and in great spirits. Her family, doctors, and even Rhonda were all amazed at how well she was doing.
Rhonda told NewsChannel5 Investigates then, "I'm glad to be alive. I didn't realize how bad things had been 'til my mom told me."
Back in March, Rhonda went to Mexico for gastric bypass surgery because her insurance wouldn't cover the operation.
She went through Med Tourism Co., a medical tourism company based in Texas. The company booked her stay at a resort hotel in Puerto Vallarta and scheduled her surgery. It was advertised as being just as safe as having it done in the U.S., but at half the price.
But there were major complications during Rhonda's surgery and, by the time she made it back to Nashville, she was so sick that doctors here weren't even sure she'd survive.
When we first met Rhonda nearly three months after the operation, she was still very sick and could barely move.
She told NewsChannel5 Investigates then that her decision to make the trip was "the worst mistake of my life."
But when we caught up with her just weeks ago, she had come a long way.
Her mother excitedly explained, "Oh, this is like night and day."
The gaping hole in her stomach was finally healing.
In fact, her doctor, Vanderbilt surgeon Willie Melvin, examined the wound and told Rhonda, "That is amazing. It is half the size that it was."
Dr. Melvin also told Rhonda that she was finally well enough for another surgery to repair what had been so badly damaged in Mexico.
He explained to NewsChannel5 Investigates, "There's several phases of it. One is to connect things back up and then to reconstruct her abdominal wall."
The surgery was scheduled for Friday and would mean Rhonda would finally get to eat and drink again.
Rhonda could hardly wait.
"Oh my gosh! I want some pineapple juice so bad!" she said excitedly.
But that surgery is now off.
Just days after that doctor's appointment, Rhonda suddenly took a dramatic turn for the worse. And she's now back at Vanderbilt where doctors are once again trying to save her life.
Marcy Christian updated NewsChannel5 Investigates on her daughter's condition.
"Rhonda has had a massive stroke due to an infection and bacteria that she picked up from the original operation," Rhonda said.
She now has fluid in her lungs. Her heart is damaged. And doctors have given her parents little hope.
Now, Marcy and John Christian want anyone considering surgery abroad to know Rhonda's story.
"She would want to have the word out and that's what she told me and that's why we're doing this," Marcy said. "She risked her life to have this bypass surgery done and it wasn't worth it. It really wasn't."
Doctors have Rhonda on antibiotics hoping to stop these infections from spreading any further, but they're having a hard time.
These are nasty, tough to fight infections that's she got. And on top of that, she has all of the other health problems from the bypass surgery. Her doctors say it's just a lot for a body to handle.
Rhonda remains on a respirator in Vanderbilt's intensive care unit. But, her parents say Rhonda's a fighter and if anyone can beat this, she can.