The grieving mother of a 20-year-old woman who died after having weight-loss surgery in Turkey has spoken out days after her death, saying she “never wants this to happen to another daughter”.
Morgan Ribeiro travelled from her home in south London to Turkey for a £2,500 gastric sleeve operation earlier this month, with partner James Brewster saying she had researched her options thoroughly because she did not want to spend years on an NHS waiting list.
But after being given the green light to fly home three days after the procedure on 5 January, Ms Ribeiro fell seriously ill during the flight back to Gatwick Airport, forcing the plane to make an emergency landing in Serbia, where she was rushed to hospital.
Medics informed Mr Brewster, 19, that his girlfriend was going into septic shock. He said doctors at the hospital told him they had to operate on Ms Ribeiro after discovering her small intestine had been cut during the gastric sleeve procedure, which led to an infection.
The family says surgeons removed 10cm of her small intestine and were hopeful she would pull through. However, on 9 January the family said Ms Ribeiro suffered a heart attack and she was put in an induced coma. She died four days later at 4am.
Speaking days after her death, her mother Erin Gibson, 44, said her daughter had struggled with her weight in the past and was taunted by bullies from a young age, but that she had no idea that she was going to have the procedure.
“Growing up she was bullied a lot, she’s always battled with her weight and been a bigger girl and she had a really rough time with it,” the mother-of-five said. “I told her she was beautiful inside and out, she really was a beautiful girl.”
Her daughter Kayleigh, 26, found out on Christmas Day that Ms Ribeiro was planning to travel to Turkey to have the surgery – the first time the 20-year-old would ever travel abroad – and begged her sister not to go through with it.
Ms Gibson said: “By the time I found out it was too late, she was already on the plane. I had that sinking feeling because I’d heard horror stories about Turkey. I never ever want this to happen to another daughter. I don’t want her life to be in vain.”
Gastric sleeve surgery is offered to clinically obese patients to help them lose weight. It involves removing part of the stomach to leave behind a sleeve, therefore reducing the size of the stomach and limiting hunger.
In September 2023 Ms Ribeiro had a virtual consultation with a company that connects prospective weight-loss patients with surgeries abroad and flew out on 4 January to have the procedure the following day.
Mr Brewster recalled hospital staff and translators speaking to her about the procedure and the recovery but does not remember any mention of the dangers associated with the operation. He said she was under the knife for two-and-a-half hours and complained of discomfort when she awoke, but medics reassured her she would be fine.
Days went by and Mr Brewster says his partner followed medical advice to keep mobile to build up her strength, although the medical company refuted this claim and said Ms Ribeiro did not follow advice to walk and stay hydrated.
After being told they could return home, Mr Brewster said Ms Ribeiro was “really hot and in a lot of pain” while on the Wizz Air flight.
He said: “The flight attendant gave her some ice and water and she was finding it hard to breathe so they took her to the front of the plane where there was more space, they tried to give her an oxygen mask. I could tell something was seriously wrong.”
He said two doctors on board the flight rushed in to try and help before they made the emergency landing in Belgrade, Serbia, where she died in hospital five days later.
Now the family has launched a fundraising page to give Ms Ribeiro the best send-off they can, with her mother wanting the ceremony to be a colourful celebration of her life. They estimate the cost to repatriate her body and funeral costs will be over £10,000.
“She was loving, she was an artist, a drama queen, just like me, and she was beautiful inside and out,” her mother said. “She was outgoing, silly, friendly and loving. She loved singing and caring for others – and she worked closely with children.”
Ms Ribeiro’s death comes after another British mother-of-three, 26-year-old Demi Agoglia, died after undergoing a Brazilian bum-lift operation in Turkey.
At the time, Maria Caulfield, the minister for mental health and women’s health strategy, expressed her concerns over a lack of regulation regarding health tourism in Turkey.
The organisation that connected Ms Ribeiro with the Turkish surgeon denied any wrongdoing.The Independent has reached out to the Turkish hospital and the Serbian hospital where Ms Ribeiro was treated but they are yet to respond.
A Wizz Air spokesperson said: “We can confirm that during a flight from Istanbul to London Gatwick we made a diversion to Belgrade due to a passenger requiring medical assistance. The health and safety of our passengers and crew is our top priority, and in this instance the passenger was disembarked from the aircraft to seek urgent medical attention.
“We’re incredibly saddened to hear of the passenger passing away following their medical treatment and our thoughts remain with their family at this time.”
A government spokesman said: “We are supporting the family of a British woman who died in Belgrade and are in contact with the local authorities.
“We urge anyone considering a medical procedure abroad to review our travel advice and the relevant guidance from the NHS and other professional bodies.”