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Texas Surgeon Is Accused of Secretly Denying Liver Transplants

For many years, 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.

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

Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Middle in Houston, the place Dr. Bynon oversaw each the liver and kidney transplant applications, abruptly shut down these applications previously week whereas wanting into the allegations.

On Thursday, the medical middle, a educating hospital affiliated with the College of Texas, mentioned in an announcement that a health care provider in its liver transplant program had admitted to altering affected person data. That successfully denied the transplants, the hospital mentioned. Officers recognized the doctor as Dr. Bynon, who’s employed by the College of Texas Well being Science Middle at Houston and has had a contract to steer Memorial Hermann’s stomach transplant program since 2011.

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

Based in 1925, Memorial Hermann is a significant hospital in Houston, however it has a comparatively small liver transplant program. Final yr, it carried out 29 liver transplants, in response to federal knowledge, making it one of many smallest applications in Texas.

Lately, a disproportionate variety of Memorial Hermann sufferers have died whereas ready for a liver, knowledge exhibits. Final 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 folks ready for a transplant was greater 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 develop into 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 attainable adjustments 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 in poor health than common.

The U.S. Division of Well being and Human Providers mentioned in an announcement that it was additionally investigating the allegations. So is the United Community 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’re working diligently to deal with this subject with the eye it deserves.”

Officers started investigating after being alerted by a criticism. An evaluation then discovered what the hospital known as “irregularities” in how sufferers have been labeled on a ready checklist for liver transplants. When medical doctors place a affected person on the checklist, they need to establish the varieties of donors they’d contemplate, together with the particular 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 unimaginable — as an example, a 300-pound toddler — making them unable to obtain any transplant.

Different transplant surgeons mentioned if the checklist was tampered with, sufferers wouldn’t concentrate on adjustments of their standing.

“They’re sitting at dwelling, possibly not touring, pondering they may get an organ supply any time, however in actuality, they’re functionally inactive, and they also’re not going to get that transplant,” mentioned Dr. Sanjay Kulkarni, the vice chair of the ethics committee on the United Community for Organ Sharing. “It’s extremely uncommon, I’ve by no means heard of it earlier than, and it’s additionally extremely inappropriate.”

The hospital mentioned in its assertion that it didn’t know what number of sufferers have been affected by the adjustments, or once 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 stomach transplants, and is taken into account one of many early practitioners of superior liver transplants. He spent almost 20 years on the College of Alabama at Birmingham earlier than transferring to Texas in 2011.

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

“In my expertise, every little thing he did was in regards to the affected person,” 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 somebody, that particular person was his affected person for all times.”

On its LinkedIn web page, the College of Texas Well being Science Middle as soon as featured a photograph of a billboard with Dr. Bynon on it. The signal learn, “Dr. Bynon offers new life to transplant sufferers.”

Dr. Bynon additionally served on the Membership and Skilled Requirements Committee of the United Community for Organ Sharing, which investigates wrongdoing within the transplant system.

Most just lately, in December, Dr. Bynon made headlines for performing a kidney transplant for former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes of Texas.

The closure of the applications 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.

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

Officers 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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