Brownsville native Maria Izaguirre is a breast cancer survivor. (Courtesy photo)

Maria Izaguirre couldn’t look at herself in the mirror for two years. It was too hard.

“I was in shock to not be able to see that part of myself,” said Izaguirre, a breast cancer survivor.

Through tears and with her daughter, Johana Esquivel, by her side, she spoke of the pain in Spanish: “I would cry and cry, I just felt so sad because I was not used to looking at myself like that.”

The 55-year-old Brownsville resident was diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer in August 2015, and since she caught it at an early stage, had surgery to remove both of her breasts the following week. She was declared cancer free in 2017 and knew she wanted to get breast reconstruction surgery.

Later that year, she got plastic surgery done in Matamoros — a decision she regretted almost the day after she walked out of the clinic. She said they didn’t look or feel right. At one point, she couldn’t lift her hands because it hurt too much because it felt like rocks were hanging from her chest.

Not only was the silicone used for her surgery not positioned correctly, they were implants that are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Dr. Mauricio De La Garza, the medical director of the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Institute at DHR Health in Edinburg.

“Whoever did her surgery did not have the appropriate training because that selection of surgery was incorrect,” De La Garza said. “Someone with appropriate training never would have done that type of surgery.”

De La Garza fixed Izaguirre’s breasts in 2018, and now she said she can barely see the scars from previous surgeries, helping her to “not be reminded of the past and move on.”

Maria Izaguirre receives a hug from her doctor Mauricio De la Garza at DHR Health Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Institute on Oct. 23, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Both of them echoed the same message: make sure that the surgeon being trusted for any kind of procedure is specialized in that field.

De La Garza said at least 30% of the procedures he has done in his three years at the institute so far have been fixing botched cases like Izaguirre’s.

He added that those cases aren’t always performed in Mexico.

“I get a lot of patients with these botched surgeries and I ask them who did it and they tell me, then I ask them, ‘Did you know that person is a gynecologist? Or, did you know they were a general surgeon?’” De La Garza said. “They may have taken a weekend course to train and learn the technique, but they just know the very surface of it.”

Plastic surgeries not only look and feel unnatural, but De La Garza said there are several life-threatening complications that could happen, such as infections, abscesses and blood clots. Other risks include permanent pain, disfigurement and paralysis.

De La Garza emphasized the importance of conducting research on physicians and making sure they are accredited by the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery before allowing them to perform surgery.

Maria Izaguirre, a Brownsville native breast cancer survivor with her four grandchildren. (Courtesy photo)

“They don’t present you with multiple options, they don’t have the facility, they don’t have the infrastructure to deal with your type of surgery,” he said of physicians performing unprofessional plastic surgeries. “If anything goes wrong, you are the one left with the disaster.”

He said many of his patients say they trusted their previous surgeon in hopes of paying a lower price. De La Garza said more often than not, the bill would have been the same or even lower.

“It’s a misconception because the surgeon down there knows that the patient is living in the U.S. and takes advantage of them and charges just as much as they do in the U.S.,” he said. “I tell my patients that they could have had the surgery here through their insurance, that they just got less quality of care for the same money.”

Izaguirre said she wished she would have gone to De La Garza in 2017, because it would have saved a lot of time.

As a grandma of four young grandkids, she loves to spoil them by cooking whatever they want. Most importantly, her surgery with De La Garza, she can comfortably hug and embrace them without wincing in pain.

“I feel like myself again,” she said. “Even though I could have saved years of time, after all I have gone through, I am happy to feel like myself again.”