Editor’s Note: Covering the business of medical travel as we do, it’s easy to go for long stretches without checking with the end consumer: the patient. In this week’s issue we rectify that with an interview with Clare Morris of Columbia, SC. A long-time runner, Clare tore the meniscus in her left knee five years ago and underwent successful surgery.
Last summer she started to experience similar symptoms in her right knee. She adjusted her fitness routine to incorporate less stressful forms of exercise, including swimming and biking. The change brought her some relief but, as she tells below, one exuberant night of dancing put her back on the path of inevitable surgery.
Medical Travel Today (MTT): What finally drove you to seek a surgery for your knee?
Clare Morris (CM): I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but in early November I attended a birthday party/political fundraiser here in town. I had a great night. There was lots of dancing and laughter and general merriment. But mostly dancing.
The next morning I woke up and knew I had done it — I had pushed my knee too far.
As it happened, the president of Companion Global, David Boucher, is a friend of mine. I tested him and asked how his company could help.
MTT: Were you already familiar with medical travel?
CM: Yes and no. I knew it mostly through conversations with David. However, a lot of people think medical tourism is a little sketchy and scary, but that perception is completely wrong.
My experience was absolutely superb from the first minute of planning all the way through to today. I’m now just two weeks out from my surgery and there’s no bruising, no swelling, and barely a mark where they made the incision. Compared to the recovery I experienced in the left knee, well, there’s no comparison. I literally had swelling for months after my first surgery, but with this one it’s already gone.
MTT: Did you pursue receiving care in the US, as well as abroad?
CM: The first conversation I had was with David, so I started down the path of going to Costa Rica. My care coordinator, the fabulous Phill Midden, told me I would need a diagnosis from a local doctor in order for them to appreciate what we were dealing with. I did that and then forwarded my medical records to Phil.
During that visit I also learned that if I were to have the procedure done locally, the total cost would have been $15,000 — I have a $7,500 deductible.
MTT: And how did that compare to what you actually paid?
CM: Before I get to the price I want to say that even just how they provide you with pricing is completely different and so much easier to understand. Everything was itemized, and it was always clear what it was going to cost. I didn’t have to decipher a thing. The cost to me, including an MRI, came in at $7,800.
MTT: Did that include travel and lodging?
CM: No. But even with those added in it didn’t come close to the US estimate. My airfare was $550 roundtrip. I stayed in a hotel for four nights at $150 per night. I’m not sure what my final food expense was, but it certainly was under $1,000.
MTT: Did you actually coordinate your travel and lodging?
CM: No. Companion Global has a partner, Well-Being Travel, which coordinates travel. They even make recommendations on what seat you may want based on what procedure you’re having done. Plus, they’re familiar with what hotels are close to what hospitals – I stayed at a nice Holiday Inn a half block from the CIMA San Jose facility. It all came together very quickly, and it wasn’t time or energy consuming, which was important to me. At the point where I needed care I was in chronic pain. Plus I was working full-time, and I simply didn’t have the energy to navigate all that. Fortunately, they did it all for me.
My fabulous nurse, Rosella Brenes, met me at the airport with a wheelchair, and they got me back to the airport in comfort and with ease.
MTT: What’s been the experience with post-surgical care since you’ve been home?
CM: To be honest, I haven’t needed any. I was a bit concerned about the return trip but it all went fine. I will have to admit that I’ve been a really good patient. However, my doctor, Dr. Jaime Ulloa (who I like to call Dr. Muy Guapo) was a very skillful orthopedic surgeon. I did all of the PT and everything that I was supposed to do while I was at the hotel recovering. In fact they sent a nurse (Rosella) over daily, and I also had physical therapy every day. They were genuinely invested in my well-being and recovery. One day Rosella was trying to find me in my room, and I was actually up by the roof pool, reading and icing my knee. So I guess she called and called then, fearing I had fallen, came to the hotel and tracked me down in the hotel restaurant. I feel pretty confident that wouldn’t have happened here in the US.
MTT: Say, did you ever hear from the US doctor with whom you originally consulted?
CM: You know I just got a robo-call from them yesterday. That’s been it.
MTT: And how about Companion Global? Have you heard from them?
CM: Yes, I’ve heard from my care coordinator (Phil) and the nurse (Rosella) I mentioned earlier. But I’ve been completely without problems so that’s not much to talk about. How happy am I?
MTT: And how are you now?
CM: I’m great. I was walking four days after surgery and less than two weeks after surgery I’m walking and swimming completely normally.
Just this morning I woke up and wondered why I was so happy. It took me a minute but then I realized it was because for the past couple of weeks I have been pain-free for the first time in a long time. You just don’t appreciate how much chronic pain can affect every aspect of your life. Once you’re without it it’s like getting a whole new lease on life.
MTT: I’m curious. How did your friends and family react to the idea of you going abroad for care?
CM: The first reaction was universal surprise. The second was concern — lots of questions like ‘are you sure?’ and ‘what about the doctor’s qualifications?’ …those kinds of things. It seemed a little “back alley” to them. But I had answers and off I went.
Now that I’m back and there’s really no scar or swelling, and I’m not limping like I was before, they’re asking a whole set of different questions. And looking at me like I’m a little less crazy than they thought!
About Clare Morris
Ms. Clare Morris is the CEO of the Clare Morris Agency, Inc. (CMA). She has two decades of experience in public and media relations, crisis management, and strategic planning and implementation. In 2006, Clare was thrilled to launch her own public relations agency with several colleagues from the SC Department of Commerce. CMA, which is getting ready to celebrate its 7th birthday, specializes in helping organizations that are working to make the state more globally competitive.
Ms. Morris is an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina. She has taught Mass Communications and Public Speaking at Mount Saint Mary College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and Professional Development, Personal Awareness, and Sociology at South University in Savannah, G.A.