Texas Surgeon Is Accused of Secretly Denying Liver Transplants

For a long time, Dr. J. Steve Bynon Jr., a transplant surgeon in Texas, gained accolades and nationwide prominence for his work, together with by serving to to implement skilled requirements within the nation’s sprawling organ transplant system.

But officers at the moment are investigating allegations that Dr. Bynon was secretly manipulating a authorities database to make some of his personal sufferers ineligible to obtain new livers, doubtlessly depriving them of lifesaving care.

Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, the place Dr. Bynon oversaw each the liver and kidney transplant packages, abruptly shut down these packages up to now week whereas wanting into the allegations.

On Thursday, the medical heart, a educating hospital affiliated with the University of Texas, mentioned in a press release that a physician in its liver transplant program had admitted to altering affected person data. That successfully denied the transplants, the hospital mentioned. Officials recognized the doctor as Dr. Bynon, who’s employed by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and has had a contract to steer Memorial Hermann’s belly transplant program since 2011.

It was not clear what might have motivated Dr. Bynon. Reached by telephone on Thursday, he referred inquiries to UTHealth Houston, which declined to remark. Dr. Bynon didn’t affirm he had admitted to altering data.

Founded in 1925, Memorial Hermann is a significant hospital in Houston, nevertheless it has a comparatively small liver transplant program. Last yr, it carried out 29 liver transplants, in response to federal information, making it one of the smallest packages in Texas.

In current years, a disproportionate quantity of Memorial Hermann sufferers have died whereas ready for a liver, information exhibits. Last yr, 14 sufferers have been taken off the middle’s ready checklist as a result of they both died or turned too sick, and its mortality charge for individuals ready for a transplant was larger than anticipated, in response to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, a analysis group.

This yr, as of final month, 5 sufferers had died or turn out to be too sick to obtain a liver transplant, whereas the hospital had carried out three transplants, data present. The investigation is in early levels, and it was unclear if potential modifications to the ready checklist really resulted in a affected person not receiving a liver. A hospital spokeswoman mentioned the middle handled sufferers who have been extra severely ailing than common.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mentioned in a press release that it was additionally investigating the allegations. So is the United Network for Organ Sharing, the federal contractor that oversees the nation’s organ transplant system.

“We acknowledge the severity of this allegation,” the H.H.S. assertion mentioned. “We are working diligently to address this issue with the attention it deserves.”

Officials started investigating after being alerted by a criticism. An evaluation then discovered what the hospital referred to as “irregularities” in how sufferers have been categorized on a ready checklist for liver transplants. When docs place a affected person on the checklist, they have to determine the kinds of donors they’d take into account, together with the person’s age and weight.

Hospital officers mentioned they discovered sufferers had been listed as accepting solely donors with ages and weights that have been inconceivable — as an example, a 300-pound toddler — making them unable to obtain any transplant.

Other transplant surgeons mentioned if the checklist was tampered with, sufferers wouldn’t remember of modifications of their standing.

“They’re sitting at home, maybe not traveling, thinking they could get an organ offer any time, but in reality, they’re functionally inactive, and so they’re not going to get that transplant,” mentioned Dr. Sanjay Kulkarni, the vice chair of the ethics committee on the United Network for Organ Sharing. “It’s highly unusual, I’ve never heard of it before, and it’s also highly inappropriate.”

The hospital mentioned in its assertion that it didn’t know what number of sufferers have been affected by the modifications, or after they started. It mentioned the problems affected solely the liver transplant program, however the hospital additionally closed the kidney transplant program as a result of it was led by the identical physician.

Dr. Bynon, 64, has spent his profession in belly transplants, and is taken into account one of the early practitioners of superior liver transplants. He spent practically 20 years on the University of Alabama at Birmingham earlier than shifting to Texas in 2011.

Some former colleagues described Dr. Bynon as off-putting and boastful, whereas others referred to as him gifted and devoted.

“In my experience, everything he did was about the patient,” mentioned Dr. Brendan McGuire, the medical director of liver transplants at that Alabama program, who labored with Dr. Bynon for greater than a decade. “When he transplanted someone, that person was his patient for life.”

On its LinkedIn web page, the University of Texas Health Science Center as soon as featured a photograph of a billboard with Dr. Bynon on it. The signal learn, “Dr. Bynon gives new life to transplant patients.”

Dr. Bynon additionally served on the Membership and Professional Standards Committee of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which investigates wrongdoing within the transplant system.

Most not too long ago, in December, Dr. Bynon made headlines for performing a kidney transplant for former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes of Texas.

The closure of the packages at Memorial Hermann has shocked many within the transplant group as a result of this can be very uncommon for a program to be suspended over moral points.

At the time it shut down its packages, Memorial Hermann had 38 sufferers on its liver transplant ready checklist and 346 sufferers on its kidney checklist, in response to the hospital.

Officials mentioned they have been contacting these sufferers to assist them discover new suppliers.

Roni Caryn Rabin contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy and Kirsten Noyes contributed analysis.

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