March 06, 2006 12:00 PM

After losing nearly 80 lbs., mother of two Kristie Allen needed plastic surgery to sculpt her body back into shape. But instead of going to a U.S. doctor, she opted for meditourism, a booming trend in which travelers combine exotic trips with surgery, typically for less than the cost of the operation alone if done here. (See tally above.) South Africa, with its weak currency and well-regarded doctors, has proved particularly alluring to travelers like Allen, 30, who in July signed up with the Mediscapes agency and South African doc Don Hudson (they communicated by e-mail). Here’s how her scalpel safari turned out.

The Incidental Tourist

During her first few days in Cape Town, where she stays at the Copacabana guest lodge, Allen takes in the view from Table Mountain, shops at a local market and visits a 25,000-acre game reserve, spotting lions, rhinos and giraffes. “This is just awesome,” she says. So, too, is being able to eat all the gourmet food served as part of her tour package (such as chicken with mustard sauce and cheese scones). “I’m on the ‘eat everything plan,'” she jokes, “because it’s all going to be sucked out of me.'” Allen’s relaxed attitude continues during her first meeting with Dr. Hudson, who describes possible post-op complications, including infection and internal bleeding. “I don’t think there’s a bigger risk of me dying in Africa than in the U.S.,” she says. “If it’s my time to go, it’s my time to go.”

Nip, Tuck & Recovery

On day 6, Allen enters University of Cape Town Private Academic Hospital and spends four hours undergoing a tummy tuck and liposuction. The surgery leaves her with a new body—and in a whole lot of pain. “I feel like someone shot me,” she moans after waking up. Five days later, Allen is well enough to do some more shopping, but after an airline strike is called, she suddenly decides to fly home a day early—which doesn’t leave her time to return to the hospital to have her stitches removed. When Mediscapes learns of her decision, it sends a nurse to take out Allen’s stitches in an airport bathroom, thereby eliminating the possibility that the sutures will come undone on the plane. Leaning against a baby changing table, Allen lifts up her shirt and admires her considerably flatter tummy. “I’m just thrilled to death,” she says.

Home Sweet Home

With written instructions on aftercare from Dr. Hudson (among other things, he tells her to wear Lycra pants under her clothes for six weeks to “help compress the skin”), Allen arrives home on July 27. Six months later she reports that she hasn’t suffered any ill effects from her overseas operation. (Mediscapes says that in four years of doing business, it has yet to see any patients who suffer complications that need following up.) “My skin healed really well,” says Allen, who recently sported a bikini during a family vacation in the Bahamas with husband Andy, 36, a carpet cleaner; son Michael, 12; and daughter Breanna, 8. “If you look at my pictures from that trip, I’m smiling in all of them.” So does Allen have any regrets? Only one. “I should have done my butt,” she says.

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