'I woke up after surgery and my stomach was next to me in a plastic bag'

Rosie Ritchie lost 13 stone after travelling to Turkey for a gastric sleeve - but it came at a huge cost to her physical and mental health.

Warning: This article contains graphic images

The change in Rosie Ritchie’s weight over the last 12 months has been dramatic.

The 24-year-old mum weighed 26 stone when she travelled to Turkey last July for a gastric sleeve operation that removed around 80% of her stomach.

She now weighs 13 stone but the process has had a massive impact on her physical and mental health.

Rosie has suffered numerous complications since the botched operation left her screaming in pain.

“I don’t regret the surgery. I regret where I got it done,” she told STV News.

“I believe if I had received the help here that I was crying out for, I probably would have had better care, before during and after. I had absolutely no aftercare in Turkey. I think one of the main things you need to get this surgery is therapy.“

Rosie lost 13 stone after her surgery.

“I have lost the weight I wanted to lose – 13 stone in a year but that is the only plus. It has negatively impacted on my mental health.

“All the ongoing hospital treatment has taken me away from my two children and I have spent most of the time, feeling completely and utterly unwell. “

Rosie, 24, from Bellshill, travelled to Turkey with her sister for weight loss surgery. The sisters paid £3,000 each for a gastric sleeve, an operation that involves removing 85% of the stomach.

Each received a £300 discount as they booked together. 

“I was so scared travelling to Turkey,” said Rosie. “I hadn’t been abroad for years due to my weight. I was terrified of going on the plane and needed a seatbelt extender as I was so big.

“When I woke up after surgery, I looked to the side of me and my stomach was in a clear plastic bag beside me. A member of staff then told me they needed to keep it for 72 hours in case they had to put it back inside me or if I developed any complications.

“I was horrified and thought ‘what I have I done?'”

Rosie’s stomach in a bag.

On the way back home to Scotland, Rosie said her sister was shivering on the plane and looked terrible. She was later diagnosed with sepsis.

Rosie’s issues began a month later when she started to try and eat solid food.

“I was waking up during the night with acid in my mouth. A few times I had bile coming out of my nose. I’d wake up screaming in pain,” she said.

“Food was getting stuck in my oesophagus so it wasn’t entering my stomach properly and causing acid reflux. I wasn’t taking in any nutrients and my hair was falling out in clumps. My skin and nails were terrible. I couldn’t keep anything down apart from water or protein shakes.”

After multiple hospital trips, Rosie was sent for a CT scan which revealed she had internal bleeding and inflamed ulcers.

They also discovered the entrance to her stomach was far too small. It was only 12mm and should have been 20mm.  

Before and after Rosie’s surgery.

“Every six weeks I now have a horrendous procedure to try and fix this,” said Rosie. “This involves a scope down my throat and you feel like you cant breathe.  

“I have had this ten times and the last time they injected Botox. They said this was a last resort measure before they consider other possible surgical routes to try and help me. I’m still waking up twice a week choking on bile.”

Rosie said when she told the Istanbul clinic about both her own and his sister’s experiences, they responded: “We are very sorry. This doesn’t normally happen.”

STV News has approached Medaway for comment.

Surgeons in Lanarkshire say they are seeing an increasingly number of patients presenting at hospital as emergency cases after weight loss surgery overseas from countries including Turkey and Egypt. Some have arrived at A&E departments directly from Glasgow airport.  

Hasan Kasem, consultant upper gastrointestinal surgeon at NHS Lanarkshire, said he would like to see large posters at every airport departure gate warning of the dangers involved in weight-loss surgery.

Hasan Kasem.

He said: “Guidelines for patients (are needed) to advise them on what to look out for with health providers. Make people read that before they board that flight to makes sure they know what they are signing up for.”

“The NHS is picking up the pieces. I am probably doing more corrective interventions on overseas patients with complications rather than primary procedures on the NHS.

“We see one to two cases every couple of weeks. This can include early complications such as clot to the lung from flying so soon after an operation. Also we see issues where the joins of the surgery cannot heal properly or are too tight.

“I think the biggest problem is going to be long term consequences as, clearly, overseas patients haven’t been given proper counselling, screening for eating disorders and the right nutritional education. 

“In extreme circumstances where they haven’t been taking the appropriate vitamins and supplements, we are seeing cases of paralysis, blindness and even dementia.“

Mr Kasem says the patient group travelling to Turkey and elsewhere in Europe tend to be younger, in their 20s and 30s, whereas those on his NHS list who meet the strict criteria for surgery are commonly older with chronic health issues. 

The surgeon also stresses with private surgery in the UK, there is a two-week cooling off period before any procedure.

“For me, the operation is a very small part of the weight loss journey,” he added. “It is all about informed consent.

“You need the right aftercare and the follow up to make surgery a success for you and to make sure you lose and maintain the weight in a safe manner.”

Many overseas clinics bombard its potential patients with online deals and offers and chat to prospective clients via video call and WhatsApp. 

The UK Government has said it would meet with officials in Turkey to discuss regulations around medical and cosmetic tourism, following several deaths.

But the Scottish Government has no current plans to engage directly with overseas providers or regulators.

A spokesperson said: “We do not recommend that patients and families seek clinical treatment or care for themselves overseas, and there is guidance on NHS Inform recommending that people do not travel abroad for surgery.

“If someone does travel for private surgery the expectation is that related pre and post operative care will also be private.

“While NHS Scotland does not provide standard post-operative care for people who have chosen private treatment, it will always provide emergency care to anyone who needs it.”

After her experience abroad, Rosie says she continues to see adverts and was horrified to receive a text informing her of a Black Friday deal.

She is now urging others considering surgery overseas to do their homework.

“Please research where you are going. Look at the surgeon, what qualifications they have, research the hospital, its surroundings.

“I didn’t really give myself the time to think about it. I did a little bit of research online but I clearly didn’t do enough. I didn’t consider how it would impact on my mental health.”

Rosie believes there also needs to be more help for those dealing with after effects from such extreme weight loss, like excess skin.

Rosie suffered numerous complications post-surgery.

“My GP has now referred me to a plastic surgeon but I don’t know how long that will take or whether they will fix what I want fixed,” she said.

“I am really thankful I no longer struggle to do anything. My blood pressure is normal. I’m no longer at risk of diabetes. I don’t have any problems with my knees but I’m still in pain.

“It’s mentally and physically draining. No one knows how hard it has been to get to this stage. It is difficult to maintain and you really have to retrain your brain.  

“It also really frustrates me when people say you can go the gym and lose a couple of stone. I know if it wasn’t for the surgery, I wouldn’t have been able to lose this amount of weight.

“When I was heavy, I used to be so badly bullied. People who walk past me in the street and say things to me. Now I’ve lost the weight, people treat me so differently and do things like hold doors open.

“All because of what I look like now and to be honest, this makes me so upset. When I see people who are heavier, I give them respect, I hold that door open because deep down inside, I know how they are feeling.”

Rosie’s medical treatment is far from over. She now wants others to understand that results in the mirror don’t give a true reflection of what she and other patients have gone through.

Help and support is available now if you need it. Details of services available can be found at stv.tv/advice 

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