There’s more to RP than nose jobs

New method aimed at getting more medical tourists
By Corrie Salientes-Narisma
Last updated 07:51am (Mla time) 03/11/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Long before the term medical tourism became a buzzword in the country, Dr. Florencio Lucero, a senior plastic surgeon at Cardinal Santos Medical Center and chief of plastic surgery division of the Philippine General Hospital, had already been receiving foreign patients coming to the country for cosmetic and aesthetic surgery.

Medical tourism is a multibillion-dollar global industry that is still growing, which is why Philippines wants to get slice of the pie.

Dr. Lucero believes the Philippines—with its competitive costs and its pool of quality medical practitioners—stands a good chance of becoming a major player in this market.

Medical tourism includes not only cosmetic procedures but major surgeries as well.

The 60-year-old doctor thinks he can open up another market and contribute to the country’s medical tourism via a new medical procedure that his clinic—Asian Plastic Surgery Center—is offering, called the autologous stem cell transplant.

This procedure, he says, guarantees patients suffering from degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s of a medical rejuvenation that will make them feel good inside and out.

Attracting attention
Lucero is confident the autologous stem cell transplant can call the attention of the traveling patients and draw them to the Philippines. Asian Plastic Surgery Center is the only facility that offers this treatment in the country, and one of only a handful in Asia.

Although the primary targets for this treatment are those with degenerative diseases, Lucero also prescribes this treatment to workaholics and driven individuals who may have stressed out their bodies too much.

The procedure however carries a steep price tag of $25,000 or some P1.25 million.

Lucero claims that the steep cost is still only a fraction of what it would cost in countries such as the United States and Europe.

He has so far performed stem cell transfers on 27 other patients, with Australian doctor of medicine Bill Paspaliaris doing the processing of the cells collected for infusion into the patients. Paspaliaris introduced the procedure to Lucero.

Hospital-hotels needed
Lucero is a firm believer in the country’s capability to ride on the medical tourism boom. He, however, says much still has to be done.

While minor procedures can be done in existing facilities, even in resorts, Lucero says the country, if it were to become a major player in the booming medical tourism market, should have better, more sophisticated and more complete facilities that could accommodate long-staying foreign patients.

The doctor is specifically referring to special hotel-like hospitals that would serve as centers for holistic rejuvenation.

“Medical tourists would prefer to get treatment and stay in such facilities. After a procedure, they would want to wake up in places much nicer than the usual hospital rooms,” says Lucero.

These facilities, he adds, should be equipped with the best possible medical equipment and manned by seasoned doctors who would be able to handle any medical case under any given situation.

Lucero’s Asian Plastic Surgery Center, for one, plans to put up such a facility.

Lucero also stresses the need for the continued training of surgeons and other medical practitioners to ensure that the country’s standards will be at par with international standards.

To establish a reputation as among the best providers of medical services in the world, Lucero says the country has to make sure that continuous training of new and practicing surgeons is undertaken. This will ensure that local standards are at par with the best in the world.

Lucero can boast of his own medical education and training record. Right after receiving his medical degree from Far Eastern University in 1970, including a one-year internship at the USAF Hospital in the former Clark Airbase, he went through a five-year training on general and plastic surgery at the University of the Philippines General Hospital.

For another two years, he undertook training on cosmetic surgery at Straith Clinic in Michigan as a fellow. Another fellowship brought the doctor to a training on burn surgery at the Cook Country Hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

Lucero teaches at the UP College of Medicine and he offers training programs for practicing plastic surgeons both here and abroad.

The doctor also makes it a point to do speaking engagements overseas and attend international conferences on his field as his contribution to making other countries recognize the Philippines as a world-class destination for medical tourists.

Investments in such facilities and the efforts to build the country as a major destination for the traveling patients would be worth it, as recent trends guarantee the continuous expansion of the market in the years ahead.

Stem cell
The autologous stem cell transplant is an exclusive collaboration between Lucero and AusPaspaliaris.

Paspaliaris had trained in clinical pharmacology and regenerative medicine, and a clinical research specialist involved in the development and promotion of adipose-derived stem cells and their clinical use. He is also the chief executive of Hong Kong-based Stem Tech Ltd.—the provider of the technology for the stem cell transplant.

His previous work with the French Foreign legion in Angola and Congo, according to documents, allowed Paspaliaris to do specific study on stem cell therapy to ease pain and hasten healing of wounds. That’s where he observed faster recovery and anti-aging results of the treatment.

Lucero, who is also president of the Philippine Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons and member of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, claims the autologous stem cell transplants hold great promise of curing a wide variety of degenerative diseases—Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, spinal cord injuries and aging itself.

Stem cells are the basic building of life, they are formed at conception and specialized to become the different tissues of the body. As people grow older and their stem cells in some parts of their bodies get depleted, the regenerative power of the body decreases.

This is why people succumb to diseases, disorders and to various problems that come with aging. In stem cell transplant procedures, doctors tap into the body’s dormant stem cells to repair and replace injured or diseased tissue.

Unlike other stem cell transfer technologies that use cells from peripheral blood or bone marrow, the autologous stem cell transplant is less controversial and, according to Lucero, equally effective and much safer as it uses cells harvested from the body fats of the patients.

While the bone marrow process of harvesting stem cells takes about five days, the autologous stem cell transplant takes only about four hours, according to the doctor. A patient has to first undergo a mini liposuction to extract 100 cc of fat from the body from which the cells are harvested.

The dormant cells collected are incubated in stimulating growth factors, isolated and infused back into the patient intravenously. The procedure is done in the operating room of a hospital under local anesthesia. The harvesting of the cell takes an hour while the incubation, stimulation and infusion into the patient take another three hours.

No moral, religious issue
Lucero says there are no moral and religious issues involved in this procedure since the same person will donate and receive the stem cells. This also means there is no problem in matching the stem cells.

The body fat, according to some papers obtained from the doctor, is the best source of stem cells because it is rich in mesenchyme stem cell and that more than 100 times more stem cells can be harvested as compared to bone marrow.

Lucero’s wife, Tinette, was one of his first patients. Tinette, who is now 46, attests to the effectiveness of the treatment not only in treating her mild Parkinson’s disease but also in making her look better and feel more energetic.

“Not only does it treat diseases, it also gives one other beneficial side effects as bonus,” the wife says, referring to the renewed energy she experienced after the procedure.


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