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2022-08-13 12:58:45

Plastic Surgery: the knife that heals?

By Howard Jarvis. 31.07.2010

Skilled plastic surgeons in Latvia are attracting increasing numbers of patients from abroad.

It’s glorified globalization, a billion-dollar industry with its own global and regional conferences and congresses. Medical tourism attracts many thousands of patients eager to save money by getting surgery done in a beautiful holiday destination. Now skilled plastic surgeons in Latvia are getting in on the act.
Latvia has a long way to catch up with the heavyweights of medical tourism, such as Thailand, Singapore and India. But, thanks to expertise in plastic surgery and dentistry as well as increasing financial and moral support from the country’s tourism and state authorities, it is gaining on its competitors in Central and Eastern Europe.
Discover Medical Tourism, a Seattle USA-based website provided by the independent travel information source, places Latvia first in the Baltic countries for ease of medical tourism, first in the former Soviet area and third in Central and Eastern Europe after Hungary and the Czech Republic.
The low cost of surgical and dental procedures are still Eastern Europe’s main recommendation, with more dentists per capita than most region’s around the world keeping prices down and giving medical tourists plenty to smile about.
What the region lacks, however, is the tropical-beach recovery vacation option. But although the Latvian resort of Jurmala doesn’t have palm trees, it does have pine-tree avenues, clean sand and a fresh sea breeze.
Another plus for Eastern Europe is its proximity to the rest of Europe. Short flights are important for ailing or recovering patients. Once convenient train links finally become a reality for the Baltic region, Latvia’s attractiveness for medical and other tourists will rise still further.
There are no year-long waiting lists in Latvia – a phenomenon that plagues the state-run health sectors in western countries – while prices can be half or less than those found in Western Europe or the US.
Travelotica’s managing director, Arthur Hanson, who currently lives in Thailand, says that medical tourism in Latvia really started to pick up in 2004 when the country became a member state of both NATO and the European Union.
“The recent spur of development in Latvia means that visitors will find a favorable exchange rate alongside modern and sophisticated infrastructure,” he explained. “In many cases, patients choose to go to Latvia to receive world-class medical treatment while avoiding the waiting lines in their home country. And for those who need some down time to recuperate, many visitors have compared the white sand Baltic coastline to the Mediterranean.”
Hanson underlined that medical students in Latvia undergo six years of study, typically starting at a local university before specializing abroad in Europe or North America. Latvian physicians then have to seek recertification every five years to keep up their qualifications. Hospitals are well-maintained and have regular inspections that adhere to EU standards.
“The medical facilities in Latvia are up-to-date, providing the latest technology at prices that are less than most visitors expect,” he said.
The best way forward for medical tourists is to book an all-inclusive trip to Latvia with a locally well-known private clinic or incoming travel agency that will take care of the travel arrangements, accommodation and medical consultations. Many travel agencies partner with cosmetic surgery clinics to offer joint travel and medical packages.

Riga tummy tuck
There are a large number of plastic surgeons in Latvia who are as talented and precise as doctors in the field anywhere else in the world.
One of the most renowned is Dr Jānis Zaržeckis, a charismatic, tanned and finely-chiseled surgeon whose private clinic in Riga, Zaržecka privātprakse, is part of Baltic Care, a recently established alliance of private healthcare clinics whose aim is to increase the inflow of medical tourists to Latvia. Baltic Care’s modestly sized branch on Queensborough Terrace, West London has been so successful in attracting British patients that others are now planned in Stockholm and Oslo.
“The purpose is to bring as many patients from abroad to surgeries in Latvia. It’s good for the economy – high value-added tourism,” Dr Zaržeckis enthused.
Initially, Baltic Care brought in just a trickle of patients. But as word-of-mouth recommendations from contented clients spread, with very little paid advertising, Dr Zaržeckis was soon welcoming foreign patients at his Riga clinic every week.
The media got wind of this new trend in professional plastic surgery performed in Latvia, and articles about the doctor with the movie-star looks began to appear in publications such as The Times in (March, 22 2010) and Time (May 14, 2010).
He pops over to the London clinic regularly to conduct consultations with potential patients. He discusses the necessity of the operation they want and makes clear the likelihood of success and any possible complications. On the last occasion he saw a steady stream of interested individuals from 2pm to 10pm, and scheduled 10 patients for surgery in Latvia.
He then arranges a package including hotel accommodation and airport transfers, plus a quiet post-op stay at a rural retreat with the countryside tourism association Lauku celotajs.
“It’s all very transparent and very personal,” he said. “The stay in the countryside is not far from Riga so I can visit and check on them there.”
Dr Zaržeckis places breast implants as number one on his list of operations, both in terms of popularity and his own particular talents and expertise. Anti-aging surgery comes a close second, for example facial surgeries to eliminate lines, wrinkles and grooves and restore the firmness of youth to skin on the face and neck, as well as eyelid corrections and ear, lip or nose reshaping. Tummy tucks are also regularly performed at the Riga practice.
“Since they are making the journey over to Latvia, international patients sometimes opt for two plastic surgery operations – effectively two for the price of one,” he said. However, as plastic surgery becomes ever more popular throughout Europe, one trend Dr Zaržeckis is noticing is that “when you meet a client you never know what they’re going to ask for”.

Who nose?
Laser surgery for the removal of skin defects such as scars, acne cicatrix, wrinkles and skin growths is a particular specialty of the Veselības centra 4 Ķirurģijas Clinic of Dr Andrejs Kremņevs. Routine body contouring, including the removal of unwanted body fat through liposuction, as well as breast operations, lip enhancements and cheekbone augmentation are also performed there on a regular basis.
But Dr Kremņevs is an expert above all in rhinoplasty, or nose corrections.
“It’s like an art,” he explained. “It’s not like a simple implant; everything is in the hands of the surgeon. During the consultation we plan carefully according to the client’s wishes – but only during the operation can you really feel what you need to do.”
Patients are offered pre- and post-modulations with the help of computer graphics, showing how they would look with the nose they say they want.
“It works very well. Many patients don’t really understand how a bigger or shorter nose will alter the way they look. If they’re not happy with the images, I can offer an alternative.”
Dr Kremņevs is disarmingly pragmatic when speaking about medical tourism, understanding the worries people from other countries might have before traveling to Latvia for important surgery.
“We have patients from the UK and Ireland. But I can understand if they have reservations beforehand. I would feel the same way if I was going to Vietnam or Laos for an operation.”
Only advanced, Western-made medical equipment is used at his practice, however, “not Latvian or Chinese” – the same as is used by doctors in Germany or the UK. But he stressed that the same professional medical techniques are universal the world over. He attends medical conferences every two or three months, obtaining the latest techniques to use them at his practice.
Dr Jānis Ģīlis, owner of the Plastikas ķirurģijas Clinic in Riga, estimates that around 60 percent of his scheduled surgeries are to change breast sizes – operations he has performed so many times he feels he is a particular expert in this field.
“My favorite surgeries are those in the female breast area, such as breast augmentation, reduction and breast lift. These are certainly the most popular procedures in my clinic. In second place, I would place eyelid surgery, facelifts and liposuction,” he said.
His clinic is the only one in Latvia that uses Laser LipoSmart technologies for fat reduction and body contouring.
“The highest demand is for breast surgeries, followed by botox and filler injections. After that, demand for eyelid and facelift surgery is steady.”
At least a quarter of Dr Ģīlis’ patients are foreigners, typically coming from the UK, Scandinavia, Germany, Italy and Spain. The number of these patients, he added, is continuously rising.
“I even see more patients coming from the other Baltic states, from Lithuania and Estonia.”

Safety first
At all of the clinics we visited for this article, it’s very rare for patients to have to repeat an operation a second time. This only happens on occasion in Rhinoplasty, where a second procedure may be needed after half a year if doctor or patient is not completely satisfied. But patients are almost always delighted with the adjustments to their faces or bodies.
“Patient safety has always been in first place in my hands, and my clinic has all EU medical standards, even higher,” Dr Ģīlis assured us. “A satisfied and happy patient is the best business card a doctor can have, so it is very important for me to keep my patients not only satisfied with the surgical results but also perfectly safe, with my personal responsibility for their safety.”
Before any procedures, the doctor makes sure that his patient has had a detailed consultation, has a clear treatment plan, has undergone clinical health tests, and signs an official consent form with the doctor.
Doctors’ CVs and qualifications are usually on their clinics’ websites, together with a list of procedures, FAQs and contact details – all in English and other languages. Before embarking on a medical journey to Latvia, patients can also contact their embassies to double-check clinics’ legitimacy and of course conduct their own investigations on the Internet.