The thought of facing such a big operation away from home may seem overwhelming, particularly when you’re having to come to grips with the idea of losing your breasts, so you might ask yourself why anyone would deliberately add travel into the mix. The fact is, most women who have reconstruction do so close to home; however, there are many good reasons why traveling for breast reconstruction has become more appealing.
Perhaps you have no reconstructive surgeons nearby. Or maybe you have your heart set on an advanced procedure--direct-to-implant, DIEP, GAP or TUG—but your local surgeons offer only traditional reconstruction (expander-to-implants, TRAM or latissimus dorsi flaps) that may involve lengthier recovery. In that case, you may need to travel to a nearby city, an adjacent state or across the country to find surgeons who perform the newer procedures. The good news for those who are willing to travel for breast reconstruction is that more surgeons now perform advanced procedures, increasing the chances that an experienced surgeon may be closer, rather than farther from your home.
Other factors may also influence your decision. You may want to travel to a highly-recommended surgeon or one who is more experienced with the procedure you prefer. Having extended family in a city with experienced plastic surgeons might also sway your decision, and be kinder to your budget. And the type of reconstruction you want may also play a role. If you’re interested in GAP reconstruction (where fat is moved from the upper or lower buttock to create the new breast), for example, it may be important to you to find a surgeon who performs bilateral simultaneous GAP, rather than others who perform GAP only one side at a time.
Cost can also be a significant factor. In many cases, it can be a deal breaker, especially if your healthcare company covers the cost of reconstruction only by surgeons and facilities in a preapproved network. In any case, health insurance does not typically pay for travel expenses or hotel costs related to surgery, and your out-of-pocket expense will be higher.
Journeying to another city for your surgery entails more time, cost, and careful planning, but after considering everything involved, you may find that it is worthwhile to pack up for a few days to get the surgeon and procedure that you want. More and more women are doing it, and out-of-town patients now make up a considerable part of many reconstructive practices. Your surgeon’s patient relations coordinator can facilitate your consultation appointment, coordinate insurance coverage, and help you navigate other facets of your surgical experience.
If you’re thinking about traveling for your breast reconstruction, consider the following:
1. Do your homework when choosing a remote surgeon. Research his/her expertise and skill with the procedure you desire, as you would for a surgeon in your own hometown.
2. If you can manage it, you can drive or fly in for a consultation and return home the same day. If that doesn’t work, you can swap information, including photos of your breasts and donor site, by e-mail, followed by a phone consultation.
3. If you’ll be having mastectomy with immediate reconstruction, your remote surgeon will coordinate with a local breast surgeon.
4. Be clear on what to expect regarding the length of your hospital stay, how long you’ll need to stay in town (with family, friends or in a hotel) before returning home, when you’ll be able to return home, and the timing of your post-op check-up.
5. Once your surgery date is set, you can complete all the necessary pre-op testing in your hometown, with a copy of the results forwarded to your distant plastic surgeon.
6. Ask the remote surgeon’s office about accommodations; many offices have pre-arranged discounts at hotels for post-surgery recuperation.
7. Consider how you will arrange for childcare (if necessary) while you’re away.
8. Arrange for follow-up care if needed when you return home, and a local surgeon who can handle any infection or other post-op problems that may occur.
9. Will you need to return for stage 2 revisions and/or tattooing?
10. Consider the input of other women who have traveled for their reconstruction.