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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Surgeons Give Patients a Lift for Less

MTLeonid Pavliuchenko specializes in nose jobs for the well-to-do at the Estetica clinic. He says unlicensed clinics are unreliable.
The gray building looks like any other Soviet-style office building on the outside, but from it doors wafts an antiseptic smell associated only with hospitals. Its halls are full of women in flowery robes with bandages on their bruised faces. Despite their battered appearance, the patients look content. They have willingly submitted to the rigors of a stay at the Plastic Surgery and Cosmetology Institute.

Plastic surgery has been available in Russia for decades, and according to specialists, the relatively low price of services is attracting a growing number of patients, and not only Russians.

"During Soviet times we had people waiting two or three years for surgery," said Svetlana Stesina, head of the surgical department of the Plastic Surgery and Cosmetology Institute, a part of the Health Ministry. "We sometimes had to turn away Muscovites, saying that since they didn't have far to travel, they could stop by later."

In those days, the institute was one of only two places in the country that offered cosmetic surgery, the other being Moscow's Institute of Beauty. Now, in Moscow alone there are more than 60 clinics performing plastic surgery, according to data on Nizhny Novgorod's official web site, www.nn.ru. Some clinics claim they offer Western-standard care, and price their services accordingly. One such clinic, Estetica, a part of the European Medical Center, has been treating well-to-do clients for 10 years.

Hidden in the mushrooming number of clinics are a number of unlicensed clinics and doctors operating privately. According to Leonid Pavliuchenko, a surgeon at Estetica and chairman of the aesthetic medicine department at the Institute of Peoples' Friendship, unlicensed clinics are not reliable. "A bright, talented doctor can perform surgery even in a bathroom, but the bathroom will remain a bathroom," he said.

But it is not easy to gauge the risk involved in cosmetic surgery anywhere in Russia. There is no dependable information available on how much damage is done in botched operations, said Svetlana Saverskaya of the League for Patients Protection.

But Saverskaya said she had personally only come across one case where a patient formally complained of negative effects from plastic surgery. A young woman developed a problem after having a breast enlargement in 1993 and had to have her implants removed.

Svetlana Zavidova of the Consumers' Federation could also only recollect one dispute involving plastic surgery. A young woman, unhappy with the result of surgery on her eyelids, took her case to court.

According to Zavidova, it is very difficult to win a malpractice case. "It's practically impossible to find an independent expert to testify that a doctor was at fault," she said. "All the doctors are connected to one another, and no one wants to say anything against a colleague."

Surgeons in both the Plastic Surgery Institute and Estetica say they often have to correct the work of other doctors. Sometimes, they say this happens because of unprofessional work. Other times, the patient is simply not satisfied and wishes to try again with another specialist.

Despite the possible legal problems and dissatisfaction, people are still willing to take their chances to change their appearance. Moscow's clinics offer a standard set of surgery, from face-lifts and breast augmentation to liposuctions.

As a rule, different clinics specialize in different surgeries. For instance, the majority of Estetica's clients come for nose jobs, and the clinic performs very few liposuctions. "I personally do not like to do liposuctions because they are dangerous," said Pavliuchenko. "People have died from them."

There are also less evasive procedures to change one's appearance.

A young woman named Lidia, who declined to give her full name, was at Estetica for a second time to enlarge her lips, a temporary procedure done with injections. "I read a lot about this procedure before coming here," she said, "Although it is a little painful, beauty requires sacrifice."

The Plastic Surgery and Cosmetology Institute, on the other hand, is a much bigger organization, almost like a factory of cosmetic surgery. It has dozens of surgeons who perform more than 3,000 operations a year, compared to only 300 at Estetica.

Just as the clinics' practices differ, so do their prices. A face-lift at the Institute costs about $1,000 for Russians and at least $4,000 for foreigners, while the same procedure at Estetica costs from $2,000 to $5,000 with everything included. However, prices in Moscow are cheaper than in the West, and many foreigners are just beginning to realize that. In the United States a face-lift costs at least $6,000, and in Britain it can run up to $10,000, according to price lists posted on U.S. and British clinics' web sites.

It is no surprise that more Westerners are travelling to Moscow to take advantage of less expensive cosmetic surgery. But according to James Hoehn, general secretary of the International Confederation for Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery, Moscow's high-quality aesthetic plastic surgery is another reason for the growth in the numbers of foreign patients.

Most respected clinics do not agree to do just any operation. Surgeons first listen to the patient's wishes and then decide whether they can fulfill them and whether the patient is healthy enough to undergo the procedure.

"Miracles do not happen in our work," he added. "We do reliable surgery that is safe for the patient."

Pavliuchenko added that it takes weeks or even months, depending on the surgery, for patients to see results.

Miracles or no miracles, growing numbers of people are willing to trust their looks, for considerable sums, to Moscow's clinics.