Docs say they are fixing more botched surgeries, many done overseas
S'porean has multiple plastic surgery operations, including three on her eyelids
Miss Emmeline Ang had double-eyelid operations not once, not twice, but three times.
The second and third operations were to repair the first, done in Hat Yai in southern Thailand.
Miss Ang has gone through at least 11 different plastic surgery procedures, including a nose job, fat grafting to her face and liposuction to her thighs.
She says she put off undergoing operations here due to the cost.
"A procedure in Singapore can cost four to five times the amount you'd pay in countries like Thailand or Indonesia, which I have been to," she explains.
To date, the executive in a company that handles medical evacuations has spent close to $20,000 on the procedures.
Come October, she will be heading to Korea to get a revision done to her nose, as well as an operation which will create dimples on her cheeks.
The 30-year-old mother of one travelled to Thailand by herself for the first operation in 2011, after doing some research online.
She had got divorced not long before and wanted to focus on herself for a change.
"My eyes were one of the biggest issues for me. They were so small that they would just disappear when I smiled," she writes on a blog she keeps to document her plastic surgery journeys.
On top of the double-eyelid operation, she also went through an epicanthoplasty, which targets the inner corners of the eyes, making them look larger and supposedly more vivid.
The double-eyelid procedure cost her just 12,000 baht ($460), but was a let-down.
"I had hoped that I would be able to leave the house without make-up after the operation.
"But I still ended up putting on heavy make-up around the eyes due to perpetual swelling that did not go down months after the operation," she says.
Miss Ang was also dissatisfied with the level of service she had received.
She claims the surgeon left her lying on the operation table three times and completed the surgery in four hours when it would typically take only two.
"As it was my first plastic surgery procedure, I did not know what to expect. So I used the simplest method of choosing: Picking the doctor who appeared to have the most good reviews in a forum," she says.
She faced criticism from friends, who asked her to value inner beauty more than exterior appearance.
"Those who criticised me ended up going for surgery themselves," she says with a laugh.
In November last year, Miss Ang visited Thailand again, hoping the second operation would correct the first.
The second procedure, which cost her $600, reduced the swelling resulting from the first, but her eyes were still puffy, she claims.
But that was not all.
"During the operation, I woke up to a sharp pain. I could feel the doctor extracting fat from my eyelid. I wondered if he had injected enough anaesthesia.
"I told him but he didn't really bother. So after a while I just bore with it," she says.
Desperate to fix her eyes once and for all, she headed to Korea three months ago. The third time was all worth it, she says.
"To be honest, I didn't have high hopes for the third round. I told myself if it didn't work this time, I wouldn't do anything more to my eyes," she says.
Miss Ang's advice for those who want to have plastic surgery is to lower their expectations.
"Be more thorough in your research, but don't have expectations that are too high.
"If you're paying that low a price, you've got to accept the consequences, and be prepared that it may fail and you may need revisions," she says.
"During the operation, I woke up to a sharp pain. I could feel the doctor extracting fat from my eyelid. I wondered if he had injected enough anaesthesia."
– Miss Emmeline Ang on her second operation in Thailand
Patients not doing enough research before plastic surgery
Plastic surgeons here are seeing more patients suffering the consequences of botched operations or the lack of follow-up care.
Many of these cases are a result of poor handiwork done overseas or by doctors who are not certified specialists, they say.
Dr Martin Huang, who practises at Cosmetic Surgery Clinic at Orchard Road, sees one or two patients a week who need treatment for previous operations.
It is a significant increase from the one or two a month he used to encounter a few years ago.
"It's worrying, especially with more Singaporeans making their way to Korea for surgery. They seem to think there are good surgeons there only when, in fact, there are both good and bad in every country," he says.
Just last week, Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao reported that an Indonesian man was declared brain-dead after a facelift at a Camden Medical Centre aesthetic clinic.
The New Paper on Sunday understands that the doctor involved is not a specialist nor a trained plastic surgeon. Previous news reports reveal that he had been rapped twice for misleading people into thinking that he was a trained plastic surgeon.
The Singapore Medical Council (SMC) is meant to follow up.
Reviews online and into the credentials of doctors are often insufficient in predicting whether you will be in good hands, say plastic surgeons.
"It's very difficult to tell simply through the website of a doctor where everything would look good, obviously," says Dr Huang.
Dr Leslie Kuek, whose clinic is located within Gleneagles Medical Centre, says patients are often naive in thinking that botched jobs can be fixed easily.
On the contrary, they not only end up spending more money on additional procedures, but put themselves through unnecessary anguish, frustration and anxiety, says Dr Kuek.
"In any kind of surgery, complications are sometimes irreversible. Not always can bad results be reversed. It can perhaps be salvaged," he says.
A concerning trend is the increasingly aggressive advertising efforts from foreign clinics.
They send out electronic flyers which tout breast jobs, liposuction, and show before-and-after pictures of facelifts.
While Singapore health-care institutions come under a strict code when publicising their medical services here, these rules do not apply to foreign clinics.
This is because the clinics are based overseas, and they do not come under local jurisdiction.
A Health Ministry spokesman noted that foreign doctors cannot see patients and give consultations here without first registering for a practising certificate.
Patients who seek treatment overseas do so at their own risk.
The Ministry of Health does not have jurisdiction over overseas health-care institutions, patients would have to seek their own legal recourse in the country where the procedure was performed in case of unexpected outcomes.
Plastic surgeons here say a pack mentality among beauty-conscious women, coupled with aggressive marketing, has produced a worrying trend. Says Dr Kuek: "They end up doing more than what they originally intended just because the others are doing it. And sometimes that leads to regret because they did not think through if that was a change they really wanted."
Similarly, Dr Huang recalls having a patient who had no intention of undergoing cosmetic surgery, but ended up having her jaw reduced after an overseas trip with friends.
"She regretted it after she came back to Singapore. There's a disturbing lack of discernment among patients."
In some cases, the consequences can be serious. Says Dr Huang: "I saw a patient who had a facelift done in Korea. Fat was injected in the cheek and lower eyelid area, which later developed an infection, causing severe scarring of the lower eyelid."
In another case, a patient suffered nerve damage to the thigh after fat was sucked out from it and injected into her face.
"She had numbness and problems walking as a result," he says.
Risk factors of going overseas include language barriers and a lack of proper follow-up, explain doctors.
Says plastic surgeon JJ Chua, who has a surgery at Mount Elizabeth Hospital: "If a problem develops, it's not like they can take a taxi or train to the clinic to seek help the next day. They are thousands of miles away. Patients should not assume that healing after an operation is always a straightforward process."