Years of pain resolved by surgery trip abroad

by BECKY STOPPA , | 2007-10-24

WASILLA -- Mary Percak-Dennett lived with chronic pain for years, the result of a car accident she'd been in at age 17.

The accident left her with a broken right leg that never healed properly. It weakened her knee and, over the years, her kneecap and her lower leg began a slow migration to the right.

She had lateral release surgery nine years ago to repair a torn meniscus and put her kneecap back in place. She began wearing a custom-fitted unloader brace to hold the knee a year later, but still it kept shifting.

"It was getting worse and worse. You don't even notice it because you just go on. But people did, people noticed it," she said.

She walked with a cane and found even simple tasks like walking through a grocery store painful, she said.

By the time she reached her late 40s, her lower leg curved below the knee some 19 degrees to the right. A full knee-replacement, her doctors had said for years, was the only fix.

But at an estimated $90,000 for the procedure and the follow-up care, and an insurance carrier that considered her knee troubles a pre-existing condition, a new knee was a luxury Percak-Dennett didn't think she could afford.

Then in January her husband, Scott Dennett, read an article in the Anchorage Daily News about medical tourism. Medical tourism is the practice of traveling abroad to places like Thailand or Singapore to have medical procedures done. The practice attracts more than 150,000 people from Europe and the U.S. each year, according to the article.

The draw: major medical procedures performed at internationally accredited institutions for a fraction of the cost of U.S. hospitals and little to no wait time.

Her family was sold almost instantly, Percak-Dennett said.

"They were bugging me and bugging me to get it done," she said. "But I was like, 'I couldn't go oversees. That's scary.'"

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