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Costa Rican Health Care: My Family's First Hand Experience

Back in 2007 when my family and I moved to Costa Rica, one of big advantages we had heard about living in Costa Rica was the quality and affordability of health care.  As faith would have it, our first week  in Atenas, we would test the system (I will get to that story in just a few minutes) and to say the least it passed with flying colors.

In the years that followed we have had extensive experience with both public (CAJA) and private heath care, and could not be more pleased.  As the word spread with-in our network of family and friends, many of our loved ones have traveled to Costa Rica to take advantage of the quality care that can be had for a fraction of the cost compared with that of the United States.

Our first Monday in Atenas started out at 5 a.m. when Gerardo woke me up with a "long face".  His jaw had fallen out of place and he was in pain.  Have you ever seen the painting "The Scream" by Edvard Munch?  That is what Gerardo looked like.  I jumped out of bed and we headed down to the Linea Vital, a private clinic that provides 24 hour medical and ambulance service here in Atenas.  The quality of service was excellent but  unfortunately the doctor was unable to get his stubborn jaw back into place.  From there we were sent to a local chiropractors office, where Dr. Sache attended Gerardo and worked  diligently trying to get the "mandibula" to stretch so the jaw could go back into place.  With some diligence, amazing patience, and a few muscle relaxers, the stubborn jaw finally snapped back into place.  In the mean time, I had to leave and pick my mother up and taker her for a routine check up and cleaning at the dentists office.  After dropping her off, I took Gerardo home, and then returned to check in on my mother.  To my surprise, out side the dentist office, the Linea Vital ambulance was putting my mother inside.

As it turned out, my mother was having an adverse reaction to an antibiotic.  You see, my mother is diabetic, and the dentist being precautious, gave her an antibiotic before the cleaning to prevent any infections.  During the cleaning she started feeling light headed and became nauseous.  Linea Vital was called and once inside the ambulance, anti nausea medicines were injected and she was feeling better with-in minutes.  By this point in the day (all before noon), I was completely stressed out and almost in a panic.  I realized I had left my wallet at home and had no way to pay the doctors for my mother or Gerardo's care.  I explained the situation and was asked, "Why are you worrying about money when you have two sick people to take care of?"  I was assured that I could stop by the appropriate offices durning the coming week and settle up my "accounts".  I did just that two days later and ended up paying a total of $40 for the services provided to my mother and Gerardo.

The years that have followed my mother and Gerardo would be giving the Costa Rican medical system a great amount of practice.  Gerardo, being Tico, quickly joined the Caja.  My mother continued as a private pay patient due to needing specialized care for her diabetes.  We quickly found an amazing endocrinologist, Dr. Jose Jimenez Montero with offices at CIMA Hospital in Escazu.  Due to the diabetes, my mother has diabetic retinopathy, so having a good Ophthalmologist was imperative.  Dr. Adriana Van der Laat- Roche has proven to be a God send on more that one occasion.  Diabetic retinopathy causes irregular veins to form in the eyes.  These veins are weak and often burst, causing bleeds, that impair vision due to the blood floating around behind the eye.  Left untreated, it can cause damage to the eye and retina, and result in blindness. There are several treatments for this including laser, injections, and surgery.  My mother had been treated back in Tampa, Florida with laser at a cost of $1,600.00 per treatment.  Here at CIMA the cost was less than $800 for all the treatments needed to correct the problem.  Dr. Van der Laat recently removed a cataract from my mothers left eye at a fraction of the cost that we would have paid back in the U.S.

The year before last, dengue fever made it's way back to Atenas.  Several of our friends had come down dengue, and everyone was nervous.  One day Gerardo woke up and could not get out of bed.  Being stubborn, he would not go to the doctor.  A few days passed and he was not getting any better, actually worse.  We begged and finally a week later, he went to see his family doctor at Hospital Mexico.  It turned out he did have dengue, but in addition the enzymes in his liver were off.  After many exams and blood tests it was discovered that Gerardo not only had dengue fever, but drug induced hepatitis, brought on by a combination of work out supplements and natural steroids.  One other thing that was discovered was that Gerardo had high cholesterol, which is hereditary.  With-in hours, and several IV's later, Gerardo was feeling much better and on his way to recovery.  The treatment he received at Hospital Mexico was excellent, on par with any private care we have experienced anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately for my mother, this would not be her last visit to the doctor.  Having a long history of kidney problems (infections and stones), she developed a bad kidney infection.  We found Dr. Fabian Fonseca Guzman, who practices at Hospital CIMA and Clinica Catholica in San Jose.  He quickly discovered that my mother had a 1.5 cm stone that was blocking the passage between the kidney and bladder.  She was treated for the infection, and with-in a month underwent surgery to remove the stone.  Things did not go so smoothly.  Once inside, Dr. Fonseca discovered the stone was imbedded, and the infection had not cleared up.  He drained the kidney but was unable to safely remove the stone.  Stints were put into place as well as a drain to help clear the  infection.  At this point he was afraid she would loose her kidney, but was optimistic.  One month later, she was well and could have the stone removed.  The kidney was working perfectly and all was well in paradise.  Dr. Fonseca was not only amazing in treating my mother, but his compassion for here was beyond compare.  He is a true example of what a doctor should be with impeccable bedside manners.

After all the emergency treatments had been taken care of, we finally had time to figure out what was causing my mother's back pain.  It all started about 8 years ago just before she retired.  For years, she had been having lower back pain and it was getting progressively worse.  Back in Tampa, she had seen several doctors, all of which tried treating the problem but no real diagnoses was given.  After several rounds of nerve blocks, spinal injections, and 1.5 years of treatment with prednisone, my mother was worse, but had gained over 100 pounds, that was straining her small 4'10" frame.  A close friend of ours who lives in Costa Rica, recommended Dr. Javier G. Brenes, a neurosurgeon at Clinica Biblica in San Jose.  My mother took all her previous records to her appointment with Dr. Brenes.  He started by taking an extensive history, then asking where the pain was located.  Then he asked my mother to walk, then lay down on the examination table so he could take a closer look.  With-in five minutes, before looking at my mothers previous exam reports, he knew what the problem was.  He diagnosed her with two bulging disc's, spinal stenosis, and bone overgrowth on the joint facets.  Dr. Brenes suggested an aggressive treatment that started immediately.  The treatments he  prescribed are helping, but not a cure.  To completely correct the problem she will eventually need surgery, but Dr. Brenes is very cautious with patience like my mother due to her diabetes.  

As word spread with-in our network of family and friends, several people have taken the journey to Costa Rica, taking advantage of the quality medical services that they otherwise could not have afforded back home.  One friend Bobby, from Florida, was so impressed with all the stories he had heard and read,  he sent his wife, Carol down to have extensive dental work.  Before the the decision was made, Carol had several quotes back in Florida, but after a few phone calls to Costa Rica, she arrange everything, including her 2 weeks stay, which turned into a vacation and they saved over $20,000.00  Bruce and Ingrid, a couple we have been friends with for over 15 years had a very similar experience on one of their extended trips here to Costa Rica.  Bruce had long wanted veneers and Ingrid needed a crown.  Their work together totaled around $10,000.00.  Back home they would have spent just over $30,000.00.  Now that Ingrid had first hand experience, she recently returned to have some general abdominal surgery, that was not covered by her medical insurance, as it was considered a "pre-existing" condition.  Back home in Wisconsin, this surgery would have run close to $40,000.00.  Here in Costa Rica?  Just under $9,000.00.

At the moment, all is quiet on the medical front for our family.  I have been very fortunate that in the last few years I have been very healthy and have not needed medical attention here in Costa Rica.  Having had the medical experiences with my family, I know when that day comes, I will fell 100% confident in the treatment I will receive.  The quality of care, compassion, and attention you receive from the medical industry here in Costa Rica, are on par with any other "developed" country in the world.  I should dare say superior.  If you have medical issues that are not covered by insurance in your home country, it would behoove you to check into treatments here in Costa Rica.  You won't be disappointed.

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Pure Life Development of Atenas is a full service tour company. We feature full vacation packages and day trips for the family. Our tour director Nelson Conejo is very experienced and provides a personal service and attention to detail second to none in Costa Rica. Please write Nelson or give him a call to arrange your next Costa Rican vacation at (506)2446-0447 or

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