NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Class-action lawsuit filed against doctor for weight loss surgery

Tijuana-based Dr. Mario Almanza is named in suit
Posted at 7:35 PM, Apr 05, 2018

(KGTV) -- A class-action lawsuit has been filed in Maricopa County against Dr. Mario Almanza, a doctor who performs weight loss surgeries in Tijuana.

There are more than 20 people and businesses named in the lawsuit. It also includes an Arizona woman believed to have been recruited for doctors in Mexico. It alleges fraud and negligent misrepresentation.

Jessica Ballandby is a plaintiff in the class action lawsuit. She also filed her own lawsuit against Dr. Almanza and his alleged recruiter, Sandy Brimhall.

Ballandby, a mother of two, got weight loss surgery with Dr. Almanza back in Tijuana back in March 2014. She said she experienced problems almost immediately.

“I woke up from surgery and was feeling the most pain I’d ever felt in my life,” Ballandby said. “You could literally take my hoodie and ring it out and blood was dripping from it.”

Ballandby blames Dr. Almanza, who claims to be the leading weight loss surgeon south of the border. After her surgery, she thought the worst.

“I’m going to die over here. I’m never going to see my family again,” Ballandby remembers thinking.

She admits she did not think twice about surgery in Mexico.

“I was thinking long-term effects of being able to support my two kids,” Ballandby said.

It is expensive in the United States and the gastric sleeve procedure came highly recommended and referred by Brimhall. In a 2015 interview, Brimhall said she collected $250 for people she sent to surgeons in Tijuana. Brimhall was with Ballandby in Mexico and admitted there were issues with her surgery.

“When she crossed the border, she was having significant problems so she went to another bariatric center in Scottsdale and they told her he had nicked her intestines,” Brimhall said.

In the court documents, it alleges that Brimhall used “high-pressure sales tactics” on people like Ballandby looking to lose weight and recommended doctors like Almanza.

The class-action lawsuit also named Fill Centers USA and claimed Almanza was working with the business. The attorney representing Ballandby said Fill Centers USA would arrange trips to Mexico and aftercare in the U.S. for patients who received the Lap-Band surgery.

“It would be a quick in and out. The surgeries would be done by doctors who are qualified and competent and that’s not what happened,” said Ballandby’s attorney, Robert Gregory.

A trip to the emergency room delivered devastating news to Ballandby.

“Your spleen’s been cut,” she said doctors told her. “He’s like, you’re bleeding internally.”

Ballandby said she is now 102 pounds and has trouble keeping on weight. She also lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. She said none of it was covered by insurance because she chose to have surgery in Mexico.

Brimhall was a school principal in Arizona. A records request showed she used her district email to recruit for surgeons across the border. Emails showed Brimhall recruited hundreds of people, escorted them to Mexico, used district resources to transmit HIPAA protected medical documents and started a business, making professional referrals allegedly based on her own experience having weight loss surgery in Mexico.

Team 10 has confirmed four Americans died after having weight loss surgery with Dr. Almanza. In January 2016 during an interview with Team 10, he said he had performed more than 14,000 surgeries. Currently, his website now says over 16,000 surgeries have been performed.

Dr. Almanza told Team 10 in 2016, the only patients he knew who passed away after surgery were the ones featured in Team 10 stories. He believes his unhappy patients were bribed by a disgruntled employee who wants to ruin his reputation.

Ballandby compared Dr. Almanza’s operation to a “pig farm.”

“That’s what he’s treating human beings over there like," she said. "Just like a pig. Slaughtering them."