Traveling for DIEP Flap Breast Reconstruction
My Journey ~ I traveled over 800 miles for DIEP flap breast reconstruction surgery. Many people, including healthcare providers have asked me, “Why did you travel to San Antonio, TX for your DIEP flap breast reconstruction surgery and what is it like adding that travel component?”
To answer the first question, I simply feel I found the best micro-surgeon in the country to perform my DIEP flap procedure. This is a highly complex surgery successfully performed by few surgeons across the United States. Many women have to travel to have this surgery performed because of that. I stand firm in my conviction, the group at PRMA in San Antonio are seven of the finest micro-surgeons in the United States and I want other women to know that. The answer to the second question and making those travel plans is what I’d like to address in detail in this blog.
Lodging and Flights for a Two Week Stay
Once you have had your initial consult with your plastic surgeon, whoever you have chosen, they will begin to process your case. The group you chose must check coverage with your insurance, depending on your individual plan, and schedule a surgery date for you.
The Women’s Health and Cancer Rights Act (WHCRA) helps protect many women with breast cancer who choose to have their breasts rebuilt (reconstructed) after a mastectomy. Mastectomy (mas-tek-tuh-me) is surgery to remove all or part of the breast. This federal law requires most group insurance plans that cover mastectomies to also cover breast reconstruction. It was signed into law on October 21, 1998. The United States Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services oversee this law.
I got a phone call from my plastic surgeon’s insurance department and my mind clicked into planning mode. The first thing you will need to do is arrange flights and lodging. My surgeon required me to stay two weeks total. This may vary slightly from surgeon to surgeon but will give you a general idea of how long you will be away from home. The first few days will be in hospital. The remaining time, approximately 7-10 days, will be back at your place of “rest and healing”. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to know someone in the town you are traveling to. If so, wonderful! You are set for a place to stay.
But, like many, because I didn’t have friends or family in San Antonio, I had to pay for lodging. Travel and meals will be your financial responsibility. A key reminder: Save all of your receipts from lodging and travel. These were all considered part of my medical tax deductions. Meals cannot be included in deductions, however. I chose to stay in a VRBO for a couple of reasons. My husband could only be there for the first week. I asked my friend to fly down for week two, which was the week I stayed at the VRBO. I wanted us each to have our own bedroom. You could book two hotel rooms side-by-side but the VRBO option was much more cost effective when I researched options. Do be sure to ask your plastic surgery center or hospital you will be staying at if they contract with nearby hotels for a discount rate. It is often the case and the price will reflect a lower rate than if you simply book on line. Additionally, the plastic surgery group I went to in San Antonio has listed travel assistance on their website. There are certain qualifications but it’s definitely worth the call.
A growing number of breast cancer patients are now choosing to travel for their care, particularly for some of the more advanced breast reconstruction procedures. Insurance may cover the health care expenses but the cost of the hotel and air fare falls on the patient.
Now, some patients may qualify for financial assistance to cover these extra expenses thanks to two special programs:
…..Read more here from the PRMA plastic surgery website
Conveniences of Home
Additionally, I wanted access to a washer, dryer and kitchen. I knew I wouldn’t feel up to going out to eat dinner. Your appetite is generally diminished after surgery and I wanted to be sure I was eating healthy food during recuperation. This gave us the option of grocery shopping before my surgery and having a kitchen stocked with healthy foods in order to prepare meals. My best friend who came for week two is a fabulous cook. I felt very really spoiled.
Close Proximity to Medical Facility
Search Google maps. Look to see what hospital you will be staying at and search out hotels, vacation rentals or Bed and Breakfast as close to the hospital as possible. It was so convenient for my husband the week I was in hospital because he had a nearby place he could go back to and unwind and get away from the hospital. I didn’t want him to spend 24/7 with me in the hospital. You are going to be taken care of by the staff. You may feel a bit dopey from pain meds the first day or two. Having your care taker at the hospital all the time is of no benefit to either of you. Caregivers need time away and you need your rest and recovery period. I loved it when my husband came up with our backgammon game. He was refreshed and I was ready for a distraction.
Search out nearby pharmacies, groceries and restaurants as well. I know it seems so obvious but doing these things ahead of time is much better than doing it when you’re recovering from surgery. Remember, you will be there for a minimum of two weeks and we sometimes take for granted the conveniences we need while away from home, especially for a major surgical event. It will make life easier during your recovery for you and your caregiver if all these things are in place prior to leaving.
Ask the hotel/vacation rental what forms of entertainment they have available such as cable, internet, and movies. You are going to be spending a lot of time with your feet up so have items to keep you occupied and stave off the boredom. Do ask about the availability of a recliner. It is an important part of the healing process since you are encouraged to be in the “beach chair” position as you heal so don’t stretch out the abdominal incision too much. Elevating your legs will help with the fluid buildup and drainage after surgery. The VRBO I was at had a recliner. I also know some hotels have recliners available upon request. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Additionally, you may be able to call a durable medical equipment company to deliver a recliner to your place of healing. This might be an eligible insurance expense. Ask, ask, ask!
I am an expert at racking up air miles for cheaper flights but one note here. If you use air miles you will not be able to report it on taxes since there is no dollar amount to report. Patients fly from different parts of the country and use different airlines. I encourage you to ask about the flexibility of your return flight and if you will likely have a penalty fee for changing dates. I bring this up because things happen. My recovery went seamlessly and I was able to travel home on the date I originally booked. However, I have talked to other ladies who have developed minor medical issues either before or after surgery causing delays. This resulted in having to change their flights home. It can cost you more money. This is what I did. I booked on Southwest Airlines because they have a flexible re-booking policy. If you cannot make your original flight they will “bank” your ticket for travel within a year. The only charge incurred is when there is a difference in the price of the ticket on the changed date. They do not charge an administrative/change fee. Here is their “NO SHOW” policy. Changing ten minutes prior to scheduled departure is pretty user friendly.
No Show Policy – If you are not planning to travel on any portion of your itinerary, please cancel or change your reservation at least 10 minutes prior to scheduled departure of the flight. Customers who fail to cancel or change their reservations at least 10 minutes prior to scheduled departure or fail to board their flight(s) on any Wanna Get Away or DING! fare segment are subject to our No Show Policy. Additionally, the entire reservation including any remaining flights on the ticketed itinerary will also be cancelled and all funds from the “No Show” reservation will be forfeited and may not be used or applied toward future ticket purchases. Reservations booked using Rewards points, Companion passes, and Reward seats are not included in this policy.
Ladies, ask for it when you go home. You are likely going to need it for phase one. I also encourage you to have a travel companion since direct flights are so difficult to book these days. The assistance as you travel is comforting. You will have weight restrictions so you will not be able to tote anything heavier than 10 lbs. Lighten up those purses and forget lifting the two week’s worth of supplies you brought in your luggage! You will be exhausted. You have been in the safe confines of the hospital and your place of healing. Getting out in the crowded airport, going through security, and getting to your gate can be exhausting. The emotional weight of completing this journey, too, may weigh on you.
Benefits of a Wheelchair
Requesting a wheelchair will reap these benefits for you. You will get through security much easier. I did find it a bit amusing I had to get out of my wheelchair when going through security and they darn-near took the thing apart to wand it. I was thinking, seriously?? This wheelchair is part of your airport and you feel the need to wand it? You will not be on your feet for extended periods of time if you have a wheelchair. You can get up at will and use the restroom or walk around. You will not become over-fatigued. It can reduce increased swelling. The best part, you will board before everyone else, at least it was the case for me. I don’t normally sit in the bulk-head area but this time it was very helpful because I could really stretch my legs out, rotate those ankles and get up very easily to move around, which is important post-surgery to avoid DVT. Wear those hospital compression stockings home for travel!! Additionally, if you have a travel companion they allow them to stay right with you through security and boarding.
Feel free to contact me through this website if you have further questions. I’m sure I could add much more but these are the basics of lodging and travel.