‘I am unrecognizable’: Medical tourist surpasses weight loss goal

SPECIAL REPORT: Medical tourist surpasses weight loss goal

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – It’s a series called "Fighting for My Life and that’s exactly what Will Smink did was fight for his life.

At his highest weight, Smink was 416 pounds. One year after bariatric surgery in Tijuana, Mexico, his current weight is 195 pounds. He has surpassed his goal of weight loss.

“I am unrecognizable," Smink stated.

In addition to the more than 220 pounds he’s lost in a year, Smink has been able to experience things for the very first time.

“It was the most comfortable I’ve ever felt sitting in an economy seat on a plane - no seatbelt extender, not having to reserve a second seat,” he said.

What may seem like normal day-to-day occurrences for some is new for Smink.

“I went to a theme park and I fit in the rides for the first time since I can remember, putting the lapper on for the first time," he said. "It was so emotional I was ready to cry right there.”

Smink said he’s been able to consistently keep the weight off just by walking.

“Yeah, just by walking, and its been amazing to hear people say they’ve been gaining weight during the pandemic, but here I feel like I am the only one that’s been losing weight," Smink said laughing.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, boarders started to close to United States travelers and there are only eight countries open to U.S. citizens. Those include, Albania, Belarus, Brazil, Mexico, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey, and Zambia.

Out of the eight countries, Mexico and Turkey rank high on the top medical tourism destinations. According to a recent study, before the pandemic hit the global medical tourism industry was worth around $70 billion, with the U.S. medical tourism industry bringing in $6.7 billion.

Not only were borders closed, but people no matter what country someone calls home had to decide if that surgery was worth it. The weight loss program in Tijuana Will used called ‘A Lighter Me’ responded to our questions via email regarding the impacts of the coronavirus. The patient coordinator, Liberty Black, said:

“The pandemic has forced a lot of changes, issues that we didn’t anticipate. While the business of surgery itself, is still ongoing, the issue has been with passports.”

At one point the doctors office had to close briefly to redo the operating rooms with different filters and breathing masks. Black explained surgeries were halted in March, but have since picked back up.

The hotel industry in some countries, specifically Mexico, rely on medical tourists to boost their revenue. When it comes to screening for COVID-19 Black said, “Personal Patient requirements of masks was not required in MX, but often you see them anyway. Patients are screened upon intake.”

Smink said 2020 was the year he was set to undergo the skin removal process following his weight loss, but with everything going on, he said now isn’t the time.

“Ever since I lost all this weight, there is a lot of extra lose skin obviously that needs to be tended to. A lot under my arms that I don’t really feel comfortable with,” he said.

When asked if Smink will travel back to Tijuana, he said, “If I can get it covered here in the states, probably not. If not then I would definitely consider going there.”

Both Smink’s parents underwent the same gastric sleeve surgery when he was younger. He saved more than $15,000 traveling to Mexico for surgery.

Parts I and II can be seen below:

‘There’s always that small little fear of what if I don’t wake up’: The decision to be a medical tourist

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