ORLANDO, Fla. — Our tourism economy is rebounding. Our beaches and theme parks have been busy, and Orlando International Airport was recently named one of the busiest in the world, after being hit hard during the pandemic.
Despite this, there is uncertainty about the future of one type of travel as COVID-19 continues: medical tourism. Experts are concerned that the initial US response to COVID-19 could slow the return of this type of travel.
On the other side of the world, in his native Romania, Alex was a cheerful and rowdy little boy. until the day he was gone.
“The story begins a year ago when he was playing inside the house, and suddenly he fell down and started feeling sick,” said Alex’s mother, Corina Gologus. , through Zoom.
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After months of living at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando, the family is back home and healthy. Alex came to America on a visa to undergo brain surgery, after Romanian doctors told the family that the site of a tumor was too difficult for them to access.
“We chose to go to the United States, because we chose the doctors, and in fact, as a parent, you want the best for your children. No matter the cost, no matter how hard and difficult,” said Gologus.
Dr. Samer Elbabaa is the pediatric neurosurgeon who helped save Alex’s life.
“When the family contacted us, towards the end of the difficult parts of the pandemic, we simply put all our efforts together to provide the child with the best possible surgery, in a safe and effective way,” said Dr Elbabaa.
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In 2017, before COVID-19, the American Medical Journal estimated that 14 to 16 million people worldwide traveled to another country for a medical procedure; and 1.4 million of those were Americans leaving the United States for treatment, as our health care costs are among the highest in the world. Those numbers were expected to increase by 25% a year, but the pandemic has all but shut down cross-border healthcare services due to travel restrictions and lack of space in hospitals as emerging coronavirus patients seek care.
“COVID can be challenging when it comes to travel restrictions,” Dr Elbabaa said. “Fortunately, we managed to get them in at the right time, in the right place.”
Even now, as restrictions ease and visitors return, questions remain about the impact of international views of the US healthcare system and how the country has fought COVID-19, on the future medical tourism.
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For Alex’s mother, she would make the trip a million times.
“It was very hard and I cried every day and every night,” Gologus said. “Now I’m smiling, because now he’s fine.”
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