An extreme example of medical tourism is currently underway. The world’s heaviest woman, Eman Ahmed Abd El Aty, has been transported from Egypt to Mumbai. This is the culmination of two months of preparation. Specialist equipment such as cranes were required to move Abd El Aty, as well as a specially modified airbus. The entire trip costing $125,000 USD overall.
At 500kg (1100 pounds) Abd El Aty is considered to be the world’s heaviest known woman. The aims of her trip to India are to receive bariatric surgery, a stomach shrinking bypass operation intended to reduce appetite and so aid in weight loss. The overall goal of this procedure is to reduce Abd El Aty’s weight to under 100kg.
Initially denied a visa for travel to India for medical purposes, Abd El Aty’s doctor, Muffazal Lakdawala directly tweeted India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, regarding the situation. The foreign minister then intervened and granted the necessary visa to travel to India for this potentially life saving surgery.
Abd El Aty’s family has said to Indian doctors that in her childhood she was diagnosed with elephantiasis, causing her limbs to swell and impairing movement. This caused her a degree of immobility which resulted in large scale weight gain. The excess weight then resulting in further health complications such as type-2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, hypertension, gout and severe obstructive and restrictive lung disease.
Currently the foremost concern is obesity, operations cannot be performed until a set amount of weight has been lost. Due to fat deposits on the torso access to internal organs is limited, potentially meaning any current attempt at operating on the stomach could lead to complications during the surgery.
To this end Abd El Aty has been placed on a calorie controlled liquid diet, strictly limited to 1200 calories per day. For a person at a healthy weight this would incur a gradual weight loss, for Abd El Aty, it has resulted in a loss of 30kg in five days. This is tremendous progress in a short period of time, though still not enough to allow for the operation to take place. As well as the potential danger to her during the surgery there are also physical barriers. Dr Lakdawala has said:
“We need to get her in shape (for the surgery). The operation table can take the weight of 450 kg but the width of the elevator is only 141 cm. Eman is currently 151 cm (in width),”
Abd El Aty will remain in India for five months following the surgery. This time will be spent being monitored by Indian specialists and physiotherapists to strengthen her muscles before her return to Egypt. Before this trip Abd El Aty had been housebound for over twenty years.
The results of the future surgery are currently uncertain, though current progress is giving a positive outlook. This is an event which has gained worldwide press attention, and is giving a large degree of publicity to the Indian medical tourism industry, as well as speaking volumes for its capacity to deal with extreme cases. As an industry the current government wishes to encourage, this is a tremendous opportunity to present itself as a worldwide competitor and encourage investment.