The quest for youth took one man to the brink of death and back.
Larkin Price, an 81-year-old U.S citizen, had a face-lift operation July 7 at a private clinic in San José, taking advantage of the country’s well-regarded and relatively inexpensive medical system.
But things did not go well.
He did not come out of the anesthesia for several days after the surgery, suffered swelling around his larynx that led to breathing problems, came down with a lung infection from an inserted tube and spent almost two weeks in the intensive care unit after being transferred to the state-owned CalderónGuardiaHospital.
At the worst point, Price had just a 50-50 chance of survival, according to his friend and caretaker, Kurt Menn, who credits Calderón Guardia will saving Price’s life.
On Tuesday, two weeks after the initial surgery, Price was still bleeding from stitches behind his left ear and slowly recovering from the other complications.
A retired French literature professor from Springfield, Illinois, Price also has suffered from memory problems since regaining consciousness. When he first awoke, he thought he was in New Orleans, recovering from an attempted robbery, said Menn, a native German and local hotelier.
“Now, I have to go find another doctor,” Menn said.
Price, now recuperating at Menn’s bed and- breakfast after being released from Calderón Guardia on Monday, said if he had to do it over again, he wouldn’t.
“It was a failure,” Price said.
Price received cautionary advice from people before getting the surgery, particularly from Menn, but he pooh-poohed it.
He said he regrets his decision now.
“I thought, why not do the little things that many people think they need, when they don’t know any better,” he said. “(Before the operation), Kurt wanted me to know who was trying to help me and who was not. …
Then I thought he was wrong but I’ve come around.”
Menn, who visited Price daily during his ordeal, said he accompanied Price during at least one of his pre-operation consultations with Dr. Jeannette Cyrman, the plastic surgeon who conducted the procedure.
“I asked the doctor if he could have a face-lift or if he is too old,” Menn said. “(She) explained that one is never too old for a face-lift and that there are no risks involved as long as the heart is in good condition. She said the operation is done only on the surface of the face and neck and therefore can not bear any risks to the patient.”
Cyrman told The Tico Times she does not know what went wrong in the surgery.
She said there are numerous possibilities, including an allergic reaction to medicine used to control the swelling around Price’s larynx. She said she has conducted many face-lift operations — even on people older than 80 — none of which resulted in any serious complications.
“It appears he had an edema of the glottis,” she said, meaning a swelling of the opening at the upper part of the larynx. “It could be that he had an allergic reaction to the medication or the anesthesia. But that’s only like a 1-in-5,000 chance, and it has nothing to do with age. It could be many things. It could even be the seafood he ate.”
After the operation, Cyrman had Price transferred to a private hospital. But that hospital demanded payment to keep Price, even though Price was unconscious and unable to sign for his credit card.
Menn said he ponied up more than $1,000 of his own money to keep him there for one night but the hospital then transferred Price to Calderón Guardia the next day because he still hadn’t regained consciousness to pay additional bills.
“To this day, (the private hospital) has not released his medical papers,” Menn said. “They accepted my signature and my money, but I guess I have no right to these papers.”
Menn said he is dedicated to helping Price recover and is helping him get an independent medical evaluation, but Price said he is not sure whether he will pursue a legal remedy.
“That is not in my head right now,” he said.
Representatives of the Social Security System, known as the Caja, and the Health Ministry said elective plastic surgeries are not allowed in public hospitals.
“We don’t do those types of ‘vanity operations,’” Caja spokeswoman Damarís Marin said. “Surgeries are for health reasons only.”
Jacqueline Peraza, head of the Health Ministry’s facility permits department, said it would not be fair to taxpayers to allow elective plastic surgeries in public hospitals.
Such surgeries also would drive up public health care costs, she said.
Other patients of Cyrman said they were pleased with their face-lift surgeries. But they said if they were Price’s age, they would not have considered the operation.
“I had mine two weeks before (Price),” said 59-year-old U.S. citizen Ted Douglas.
“I’ve had few problems with it. But someone (Price’s) age should not do this.”