British woman, 20, dies days after weight loss surgery in Turkey on first trip abroad

Morgan Maria Ribeiro
The 20-year-old died days after undergoing the weight loss procedure. Photo credit: Morgan Maria Ribeiro / Facebook

A young woman has died after undergoing weight loss surgery in Turkey on her first trip abroad.   

Morgan Maria Ribeiro, a 20-year-old from South London, travelled to Turkey earlier this month to undergo gastric sleeve surgery; a procedure in which a large portion of the stomach is removed, leaving behind a narrow 'sleeve'. The surgery is offered to help people with obesity by restricting their caloric intake and reducing hunger, which in turn can lead to effective weight loss.   

Her partner of four years James Brewster, 19, said Ribeiro had conducted extensive research before booking the operation, which he said cost her £2500 (NZ$5200). She opted for a clinic in Turkey - a popular destination for plastic and cosmetic surgeries due to its cheaper prices - and flew out on January 4 before going under the knife the next day.  

According to The Independent, Ribeiro had been experiencing discomfort but was given the green light to leave the clinic three days later.  

On the return flight to Gatwick Airport, the 20-year-old was experiencing "a lot of pain", a high temperature and was struggling to breathe, recalled Brewster, who had accompanied her on the trip. The pilots made an emergency landing in Belgrade, Serbia, where she was rushed to hospital.   

It was there they were told that Ribeiro was suffering from septic shock due to an infection, caused by an incision in her small intestine that had occurred during the gastric sleeve procedure.   

Roughly 10cm of Ribeiro's small intestine was removed in hospital, but she suffered a heart attack and was placed in an induced coma on January 9.  

The 20-year-old died four days later on January 13 in Belgrade.  

Ribeiro's mother, Erin Gibson, has since told local media that her daughter, who had been bullied about her weight, only told her about the operation when she had boarded the flight to Turkey.

"I had that sinking feeling because I'd heard horror stories about Turkey," she told The Independent.  

Brewster told the outlet that Ribeiro had opted for the surgery abroad to avoid the National Health Service's extensive wait list. The bariatric surgery is only offered via the NHS to patients with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more who've struggled to lose weight through natural methods, such as dieting and exercise.  

She had a virtual consultation with a company that connects prospective weight loss patients with international clinics in September 2023, he said.  

Brewster claimed the hospital staff in Turkey had spoken to her with the help of a translator regarding the procedure and recovery, but didn't cover the risks associated with the operation.  

A GoFundMe has been established by Ribeiro's aunt, Sophia Silva, in a bid to raise funds for the funeral and to bring her body back to the UK.   

"She sadly passed away on Saturday, January 13, 2024 at 4am due to surgical complications and sepsis," Silva wrote on the fundraiser, which has raised £4517 of a £15,000 goal at the time of writing.  

"She was a beautiful, bright light and was loved and adored by many, but [most] of all by her father, my brother Ricardo. Her great sense of humour, caring nature and bubbly personality made her so unique.  

"We are asking for your generous donations to help pay for the funeral that she deserves. Anything you are able to give will be greatly appreciated so her loved ones can say their goodbyes."  

Ribeiro had shared a final TikTok video ahead of the gastric sleeve procedure, which was captioned: "My last post before weight loss surgery - see you on the other side."  

A UK government spokesperson confirmed to The Independent that Ribeiro's family is being supported and authorities are in contact with their counterparts in Belgrade.  

In a post to her Facebook on January 14, Brewster described Ribeiro as the "love of my life".  

"She would want the best sendoff possible so any donations will go straight towards giving her that... She would tear up seeing all of the support that is behind and she is looking down on us all at this moment and is proud of all of us."  

Her cousin, Hayley Louise Scollan, told The Sun she was loved very deeply by her family.  

"I hope that this will stop anybody else from travelling to Turkey for this surgery," she said.  

Earlier this month, British mother-of-three Demi Agoglia died days after undergoing the notoriously dangerous Brazilian butt lift (BBL) procedure in Turkey.    

Hours before she was due to return to her hometown of Manchester, the 26-year-old complained of chest pains and was returned to the clinic in Istanbul for a check-up.   

Agoglia suffered a heart attack in the taxi on the way to the hospital, The Sun reported, with her partner desperately administering CPR. She was rushed to intensive care but was later pronounced dead.