'She's skin and bones': Alberta woman alleges neglect after botched weight-loss surgery in Mexico

Every meal is torture for Emily Saunders.

Over the past 14 months, she says she has lost half her body weight since undergoing weight-loss surgery in Mexico.

Down 127 pounds, so far, she feels starved, but can't stomach solid foods. She has been subsisting on a meager diet of yogurt and mashed potatoes.

Despite suffering severe complications from the surgery, Saunders says getting the medical help she desperately needs since returning to Alberta has been a bureaucratic nightmare.

"I can't see how I have to wait this long to get to the clinic for a consultation over the telephone, when I know my situation is very dire," Saunders says. "What do I do? How do I fix this problem?

"And I'm still losing weight. There is only so much more weight I can lose before my heart gives out."

Despite repeated attempts to see a specialist, Saunders says it will be June before her first consultation at Edmonton's bariatric clinic, almost 18 months after her problems began.

"It breaks my heart to see my wife just withering away," says Barry Reed.

"Every time she eats, she's doubled over in pain. Sure, she was losing the weight, but she's been in pain. She's been in pain every day for a year and half now."

Saunders, who used to weigh 250 pounds, decided to travel from her home in Hythe, Alta., to the Florence/Oasis Hospital clinic in Tijuana, Mexico, after being told the wait list for gastric sleeve surgery in Alberta was months long.

Diagnosed with neurofibromatosis six years ago, Saunders had hoped the procedure would help ease some of the inflammation and weight gain associated with the disorder.

She says her family doctor encouraged her to seek out the treatment.

"I had a lot of inflammation and arthritis in my legs, and it just kept bothering me. I couldn't walk. I couldn't work. I needed to find a solution."

But when Saunders returned from Mexico after the procedure, she soon realized something was horribly wrong and began to seek medical help.

 'She's just skin and bones'

Saunders says specialists have been reluctant to take on her case, so getting the necessary referral at the Edmonton clinic has been nearly impossible.

She feels neglected by Alberta's health-care system. 

"Our GP has sent out six referrals and they will not see her," says Reed. "And I think it's due to the fact that she went to Mexico."

"I'm about to ready to snap. She's just skin and bones."

Alberta Health Services says patients in the province's bariatric program must first undergo a series of behavioural and psychological therapies, counselling and assessments before surgery.

An AHS spokeswoman says wait times change periodically, and the current wait for bariatric "revision" surgery is three to four months.

AHS also says it can't comment on the discussions between Saunders and her GP.

Saunders remains fearful about her health, and regrets her decision to have the procedure done outside Canada.

"Really do your homework when you're going for surgery in a foreign country," says Saunders.

"In my experience, don't do it. Don't go to a foreign country for surgery and expect to have the follow-up care that you need in Canada, because its not going to happen."