'I flew overseas for weight loss surgery. When I woke up, I wanted to die.'

Melissa* can’t remember a time in her life when she felt comfortable in her body. 

Growing up as one of five kids, her brothers and sisters were all athletic. “I was the odd one out,” she tells Mamamia.

"I think I developed into womanhood a bit quicker, and that’s when I really started to notice I’m not as skinny as the other girls."

Despite being no bigger than a size 14, when she was in Year 7, she recalls her mum sending her to a personal trainer

"My mum was really anti-bigger people," Melissa says. "She planted that seed in me from a very young age.

"She used to make comments all the time. Instead of buying me clothes that fit, she’d always buy me clothes a size smaller."

From there, Melissa says, her mental health got worse over the years. Her mum would put her on strict diets, causing her to binge eat when she got home from school because she was "starving".

This unhealthy relationship with food continued into adulthood, resulting in more weight gain.

After having her two kids, now seven and five, Melissa was determined to find a "long-term solution" to weight loss.

She knew some people who’d had gastric sleeve surgery in Australia with positive results but after making enquiries; she knew there was no way she could afford the $20,000-$30,000 cost as she didn’t have health insurance.


Watch: What you need to know about gastric sleeve surgery. Post continues after video.

Video via YouTube/Beaumont Health.

Then, in February 2022, she bumped into a friend who’d lost a drastic amount of weight. She’d had a gastric sleeve surgery, but not here in Australia — she’d flown to Europe to have the procedure done in Türkiye.

"She’d booked direct with the clinic via WhatsApp, it seemed so easy," Melissa says. 

And it was cheaper — much cheaper. "It was going to be $4000 for the surgery, plus flights. So in total, it cost $8000."

Melissa says she decided immediately to book her own gastric sleeve procedure with the clinic. "My mind was made up 100 per cent," she tells Mamamia

She says she didn’t have any concerns about travelling abroad for surgery, because she trusted her friend and the research she’d done.

Melissa booked her entire procedure over WhatsApp without even a Zoom consultation.

"We moved very fast," she says. "They obviously want to make a sale. But they’re also very accommodating to your needs which makes you feel looked after."


Melissa booked just one week off work and flew to Türkiye on June 26, 2022. Her surgery was scheduled for the next day.

At the hospital, she says she felt reassured as staff did "everything they said they would do". 

"Everything was above board," Melissa says.

But with hindsight, she says, there was one red flag. 

"All the paperwork was in Turkish," she recalls. "My consultant spoke English, and she read out the documents but ultimately, she could have said whatever the hell she wanted."

Melissa’s op, which involved having 80 per cent of her stomach removed, was completed in just 45 minutes.

When she woke up on the recovery ward, she was in agony.

"I literally thought I was dying," Melissa says. "I’ve never had such excruciating pain in all my life."

Melissa was told the pain she was experiencing was due to the gas from the anaesthesia trying to exit her body. 

"I’ve had two children, so I’ve been through pain, but this was something else. For the first 24 hours, I wanted to die," she shares.

The only pain relief she was given was Panadol. "That is 24 hours I will never forget."

Thankfully the next day, the pain had drastically reduced, and she was allowed to sip on some water and apple juice. 


Another day later, Melissa was discharged to her hotel, her flight booked for that very night.

"On reflection, decisions were made that shouldn’t have been made," she says.

Before travelling, she was allowed to have a shower, during which she experienced excruciating pain down her left side. The nurse who came to see her before her departure wasn’t worried. 

"She said it was a normal surgical pain and was more concerned about getting me to film a YouTube video for her website," Melissa says.

Back in Australia, after a long, painful journey, Melissa, who works in hospitality, went straight back to work and threw a birthday party for her daughter. 

But a week later, she started to feel unwell with a high temperature, an unquenchable thirst and sweats.

Three days later, while watching TV with her family, Melissa felt like she was having a heart attack.

"All of a sudden I just couldn’t breathe," she says. "I had this incredible pain in my chest and shoulder."

Melissa’s partner called an ambulance, and she was rushed to emergency at a local hospital.

A CT scan revealed Melissa had a major leak in her stomach where the lining had not been properly glued together after her surgery. As a result, her entire body was full of sepsis.


She was rushed for emergency surgery, where drain bags were inserted to drain the infection. Later, she was transferred to the trauma unit at the Royal Alfred.

There, she needed two additional drains to remove the infection from her chest and lungs – but it still wasn’t enough. 

"I was so sick I didn’t get out of bed for literally a couple of weeks," Melissa says. "I couldn’t walk. I had to learn how to walk again. I don’t even have words to describe it."

While she was in hospital, her partner sent the surgeon from the Turkish clinic a WhatsApp message, desperately asking for his help. 

He seemed unconcerned, suggesting a stent to drain the infection.

"I don’t think he realised how far my infection had taken over my body," Melissa says. 

Eventually, surgeons did indeed insert a stent into her stomach so the infection could continue to drain but told her it was likely that down the track she’d need a total gastrectomy, meaning her stomach would need to be removed. 

At that time, Melissa was too sick to fully comprehend this.

Days later, she was allowed to go home with two stoma bags attached to her body, needing daily visits from a nurse.

"I wasn’t able to work, I wasn’t able to drive, I wasn’t able to lift my children," Melissa says. "I was fed by a feeding tube for three months."


Shortly after that, Melissa says, her body began to fight the infection by itself. When she was able to eat again, her healing accelerated further, and she had her drain bags removed.

During this time, Melissa spoke to the surgeon in Türkiye on the phone.

"He admitted to me that he had cut my stomach too small and that is why it had opened up and I had a leak," she says.

He wanted Melissa to return to Türkiye where he offered to complete the proposed gastrectomy himself.

"There was no way in hell I was going back there," she says. 

Melissa went back to work in early 2023 and says she was able to find some "normality". 

During this time, she spoke with the Turkish surgeon again, asking him to reimburse her for the procedure due to loss of earnings and hospital costs. 

"That’s when he started to really turn," she says. "He accused me of lying and making things up."

After that, he stopped taking her calls. Melissa considered getting a lawyer involved, but the trauma was just too fresh.

By October Melissa was well enough to have the stent removed.

But her nightmare was far from over.

Shortly after, she began to feel unwell again, so went back to the hospital where she had CT scans. Days later her surgeon called her back to the hospital for an emergency meeting, saying the infection was back.


"They made it clear to me we now needed to proceed with a full gastrectomy, so a full stomach removal," Melissa says. 

Melissa was almost relieved to be told it was going ahead.

"Honestly, I was just like it get it done. I’m sick of this, I can’t do it anymore," she says. 

On December 5, 2023, Melissa had a full gastrectomy. Her oesophagus is now joined directly to her small intestine, the top of which acts as her 'stomach'.

The recovery was long and difficult, but Melissa says she is now "completely back to normal". She can work, eat — albeit very small portions — and feels generally well.

"The doctors at the Alfred are heroes," she says. 

Melissa wants to tell her story as a warning to others. "I put my children through hell, I put my family through hell," she says. "I almost died."

Melissa admits she thought going to Turkey where surgery was cheaper was the "easy option". 

"I want people to know cosmetic tourism isn’t worth it," she says. 

*Name has been changed due to privacy.

Feature image: Getty.

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