Magazine photographer has narrow miss with unnecessary surgery in Thailand

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August 26, 2009

Categories: In The News,

Sometimes the best travel medical insurance is simply expert advice about what you don’t need if you’re hospitalized abroad.

For every handful of stories of travelers who land in foreign hospitals, there is always a tale of an operation gone awry, or one that was unnecessary altogether: A businessman on vacation in Mexico who falls off a horse and has emergent hip surgery, only to find out months later in the United States that the ball of his femur keeps falling out of its socket. Or the software engineer in the Middle East who dies on the operating table because the cardiologist had never performed that kind of procedure before.

A magazine photographer was on a photo shoot in Thailand last month, lifting heavy equipment, when he felt a sharp sting in his back. The pain he experienced became so unbearable and immobilizing that he called Global Rescue, whose medical staff explained the dangers associated with this kind of injury. They directed him to a qualified hospital and then sent a critical-care trained paramedic to Bangkok to assist him.

The Bangkok facility where he was examined is considered the best in the city for that specialty and the doctor assigned to his case was trained in the United States. After examining the MRI of the patient’s herniated disks, the Thai doctor decided that the surgeons in Thailand would need to fuse five of the vertebrae together.

The paramedic initiated a conference call with the Thai doctor and Global Rescue’s physicians, who in turn consulted Johns Hopkins orthopedic specialists to discuss the diagnosis. They arrived at the conclusion that the patient could and should fly home for surgery as long as he could be accompanied by a medic, who would be able to inject him on board the aircraft with pain killers and anticoagulants.

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