MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - One man traveled 2,517 miles - roughly 37 hours drive time - to Tijuana, Mexico to undergo what he calls a life-saving procedure.
That type of travel has become so frequent it’s known as medical tourism. Now, 28-year-old Will Smink is back in the states after making the controversial decision to become a medical tourist to undergo bariatric surgery.
WMBF News spoke with Smink six weeks after surgery, which he believes is giving him the boost to get his life back.
“This is the start of the journey from here," said Smink, whose highest weight was 416 pounds. "I feel really excited about what the future is gong to bring. Also I feel a sense of like how did I get to this point, like how did I allow myself to be this big?”
Doctor Zaher Nuwayhid, with Conway Medical Center, said people who are overweight shouldn’t blame themselves.
“We don’t have a cure for obesity. The way I look at it is it’s a chronic disease. I mean it is a disease like heart disease, like hypertension, like diabetes," Nuwayhid said. “Sometimes it’s not your fault. Sometimes it is the environment, the culture, genetics. Sometimes it’s what we eat and what we do.”
Smink, a WMBF News employee, is back at work and reflecting on the results he’s seeing so far.
“I feel fantastic. I have so much more energy. I’m not winded when I tie my shoes. I feel like I can take on the day more generally. I actually feel lighter," he said.
The question of whether the weight will return, however, lingers in the air.
“Do I guarantee that the weight won’t come back? Maybe part of it will come back.” Nuwayhid said.
Smink, to his credit, said he’s not letting anything stand in his way.
“My ultimate goal is I want to get to about 180 pounds," Smink said.
To accomplish that goal, Smink will continue paying attention to what he puts on his plate.
“I usually stick to a protein shake and that’s about 30 grams of protein and it curbs my hunger for a good six hours." Smink said, adding he is not snacking throughout the day or eating sweets. “I can finally have caffeine after six weeks, so I am enjoying coffee again and as for carbs, definitely staying away from those as much as I can.”
Following a two-week liquid diet, Smink said he could have solid foods after six weeks had passed. He reflected on seeing pictures of himself at a lower weight.
“This whole time I kept looking and I just could not see. There are days where I feel like I’m not losing the weight; I don’t see it physically happening. They call it body dysmorphia, where basically like you look at yourself in the mirror and mentally you feel like you’re not losing the weight, but looking at a photo like this, I notice it now,” he said.
As for resulting back to his old ways, Smink said there will always be that fear of looking at something on the plate and thinking it could "be the one that sends me back to my old ways.”
Nuwayhid responded to the potential risks of traveling out of the country for medical procedures.
“It’s not like something you can go get it somewhere and come back and that’s it. It’s a life-long journey and you got to be careful if you get into any problems or trouble, then you’re going to be scrambling around to see to find someone to take care of you,” he said.
Smink said he has a slight fear of not receiving the proper medical care at home because of traveling to Tijuana. Still, at six weeks post-op, he’s feeling the best of his life.
“Honestly, that was truly an amazing feeling, like I was going through some old clothes and trying on shirts and like pants I had not worn in like two years and it is literally one of the best feelings in the world because like I say, ‘Hey I remember this shirt,’" Smink said.
To get to who his friends and family see now, Smink had to first get through surgery.
“Once the doctor came in to take me back to surgery, the nerves were steady going up and once I got on the table I ended up saying a little prayer. I was just like, let’s get this over with and before I knew it they had put me under. I blinked and next thing I know I was in the recovery room," he said.
Smink said surgery took less than two hours. Before he could be released from the hospital, staff made sure there wasn’t a leak in his stomach.
"I had a leak tube hooked up to me and then once I was able to pass all the testing preliminaries, they discharged me from the hospital,” he said.
During surgery, Smink said doctors made a startling discovery - the upper part of his stomach was pushing through his diaphragm and causing a hernia to form he didn’t know about.
“It hadn’t like burst or anything like that or like it wasn’t like severe or anything, but it was like it was starting to get problematic but they fixed it in time and I had absolutely no idea I had it,” he said.
As for ever returning back to Tijuana for medical treatment, Smink said he’d consider returning for skin removal once he’s lost all the weight.
Smink’s highest weight before surgery was 416 pounds. He said he has so far lost a total of 90 pounds, weighing in at 326 pounds.
Editor’s note: WMBF News does not endorse medical tourism. It is a decision that is ultimately up to the individual. For some, it can be a popular choice mainly because of the cost.