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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Renowned Texas Transplant Surgeon Under Investigation for Alleged Manipulation of Patient Records

Dr. J. Steve Bynon Jr., a distinguished transplant surgeon based in Texas, now faces scrutiny and investigation following allegations of clandestine manipulation of a government database to render certain patients ineligible for liver transplants, potentially depriving them of critical medical care.

Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, where Dr. Bynon oversaw both liver and kidney transplant programs, recently suspended these programs amid investigations into the allegations.

In a statement released on Thursday, the medical center, affiliated with the University of Texas, disclosed evidence suggesting that a doctor within its liver transplant program had altered records, effectively disqualifying patients from receiving transplants. The implicated physician was identified as Dr. Bynon, employed by the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and contracted to lead Memorial Hermann’s abdominal transplant program since 2011.

The motivations behind Dr. Bynon’s alleged tampering with records remain unclear. When reached for comment, he referred inquiries to UTHealth Houston, which declined to provide additional information.

Founded in 1925, Memorial Hermann is a prominent hospital in Houston with a relatively modest liver transplant program. Last year, it conducted 29 liver transplants, positioning it as one of the smaller programs in Texas.

Notably, data indicates a disproportionately high mortality rate among Memorial Hermann patients awaiting liver transplants in recent years. Last year, 14 patients were removed from the waiting list due to death or deteriorating health, surpassing the expected mortality rate. Similar trends persisted this year, with five patients experiencing adverse outcomes while awaiting transplants.

The investigations are ongoing, and it remains uncertain whether alterations to the waiting list directly resulted in patients being denied transplants. However, a hospital spokesperson noted that the center typically treated patients with more severe illnesses than the average.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the United Network for Organ Sharing are also conducting investigations into the matter, acknowledging the severity of the allegations and committing to a thorough examination.

Initial investigations were prompted by a complaint, which subsequently revealed irregularities in how patients were categorized on the liver transplant waiting list. Notably, patients were listed as only accepting donors with unfeasible characteristics, effectively rendering them ineligible for transplants.

Dr. Sanjay Kulkarni, vice-chair of the ethics committee at the United Network for Organ Sharing, described such manipulations as highly unusual and inappropriate, highlighting the potential adverse impact on unaware patients awaiting transplants.

The hospital disclosed that it remains uncertain how many patients were affected by the alterations or when they began. While the issues were confined to the liver transplant program, the kidney transplant program, led by Dr. Bynon, was also suspended as a precautionary measure.

Dr. Bynon, aged 64, boasts an extensive career in abdominal transplants and is recognized as a pioneer in advanced liver transplant procedures. Former colleagues offer contrasting perspectives, with some describing him as arrogant while others commend his dedication to patient care.

Dr. Brendan McGuire, medical director of liver transplants at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, praised Dr. Bynon’s patient-centered approach and dedication to improving outcomes.

Dr. Bynon’s involvement in transplant advocacy and high-profile surgeries, such as a kidney transplant for former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes of Texas in December, has garnered significant attention.

The suspension of Memorial Hermann’s transplant programs has stunned the medical community, as such actions are exceedingly rare due to ethical concerns. At the time of suspension, the liver transplant waiting list comprised 38 patients, with 346 patients awaiting kidney transplants, according to hospital records.

Jonathan James
Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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