Patient Stories

Tony Hickey

  • Gastric Sleeve
  • 22/01/2023
Tony Hickey

“Going to the new HCB Hospital in Denia is approved so you get most of the costs back through the HSE when you deal with healthcareabroad.ie. The Credit Union will even pay for it in advance so you can repay them when the money comes back from the HSE.”

This article originally appeared in the Limerick Leader.

A Limerick man who lost an incredible nine stone after undergoing life-changing surgery abroad has warned others considering treatment to go to Irish-approved hospitals in Spain instead of Turkey.

Executive Driver Tony Hickey, 62, spoke out after recent high-profile cases which left patients who travelled to Turkey needing intensive care back in Ireland after botched operations.

The Ballinacurra Weston man says his life has changed since his operation 18 months ago.

“I could hardly walk anymore,” said the professional tour driver.

A rugby fan who played as a prop forward for Young Munster in his youth, Tony was always fit and healthy. He also spent 12 years with the Defence Forces, including a deployment in Lebanon, and also played on the Army rugby team.

But bad eating habits later in life saw his weight balloon to more than 23 stone. “I looked unhealthy, and I felt really unhealthy. I was driving buses and eating late at night and eating big hotel dinners. It was only a matter of time before it was going to lead to even worse health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. I was getting depressed. If I walked a few metres, I would get back pains and I would have to sit down.

“I decided to do something about it but I was quoted almost €20,000 to have an operation in Ireland and I just couldn’t afford that. Thankfully I came across the EU Cross-Border directive and discovered most of the costs of going to Spain to have the operation would be reimbursed. At first, I thought it was a scam to be honest – because I had never heard of it.

“I was so well looked after in Spain and just as importantly I was introduced to other people who had also had gastric sleeve operations so I was able to ask loads of questions to allay any fears I had.

Tony added: “I would just plead with people who are thinking of going abroad for surgery to avoid Turkey. Go to a reputable hospital in the EU and claim the costs back. You are treated like a VIP.”

And Mr Hickey, who now advises others considering bariatric surgery, says it is actually cheaper to stay within the EU as most of the costs of operations are reimbursed by the HSE under the European Union Cross-Border directive.

Tony, a former soldier with the Defence Forces, has seen his waist shrink from 48 inches to 32 inches in the 18 months since he travelled to Spain to have a gastric sleeve operation.

“It was the best decision I ever made. That’s why I now act as an advocate for the hospital in Dénia and healthcareabroad.ie so I can relay my experiences to anyone thinking about having surgery to tackle obesity. I am now down to 14 stone and one of the things I love most now is walking. I walk everywhere. I love it.”

“I now advocate on behalf of a hospital in Dénia, a lovely coastal city north of Alicante in Spain, where Irish patients are cared for through Healthcare Abroad Ireland which is an approved provider under the cross-border scheme,” said Tony.

“When someone is overweight and is having serious health complications as a result of that, I am happy to talk them through my amazing experience in Spain, and how it has changed my life for the better.

“Unfortunately, I personally know of some people who travelled to Turkey for the same operation, and they became very very unwell.

“When I travelled to Spain, I was there for three weeks. This included professional counselling and the services of a professional dietician. You also need time to recover post-surgery as it’s dangerous to fly home straight away.

“Some people I know who have been to Turkey didn’t get any professional help and were sent home again after just a few days. That’s just crazy.”

Tony says he find it even more frustrating that some people think it’s cheaper to go to Turkey. “It’s a false economy,” said Tony. “The headline price might look cheaper but the HSE doesn’t approve surgery in Turkey as it’s outside the EU and therefore you can’t get any money back from the HSE at all under the cross-border scheme.

“Going to the new HCB Hospital in Denia is approved so you get most of the costs back through the HSE when you deal with healthcareabroad.ie. The Credit Union will even pay for it in advance so you can repay them when the money comes back from the HSE.”

The EU Cross Border Directive has been operational for a decade and allows citizens of any EU country to travel to any other EU country to receive healthcare and have the costs reimbursed.