Texas surgeon accused of secretly blocking patients from getting transplants

Texas surgeon accused of secretly blocking patients from getting transplants

An accomplished and prominent transplant surgeon in Texas allegedly falsified patient data in a government transplant waiting list, which may have prevented his own patients from receiving lifesaving liver transplants, according to media reports and hospital statements.

Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center halted its liver transplant program on April 3 after finding “irregularities” with donor acceptance criteria, the Houston Chronicle reported based on a statement from the hospital. At the time there were 38 patients on the hospital’s wait list for a liver. Earlier this week, the hospital also halted its kidney transplant program, telling the Chronicle that it was pausing operations to “evaluate a new physician leadership structure.”

Memorial Hermann has not named the surgeon behind the “inappropriate changes,” but The New York Times identified him as Dr. Steve Bynon, a surgeon who has received numerous accolades and, at one point, appears to have been featured on a billboard. Bynon oversaw both the liver and kidney transplant programs at Memorial Hermann.

According to the Times, the hospital said that a doctor in its liver transplant program had admitted to changing patient records, and those changes led to patients being denied transplants. Officials who spoke with the Times identified said physician as Bynon.

Bynon is a surgical transplant director at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston), as well as the leader of Memorial Hermann’s abdominal transplant program. Ars was not able to reach Bynon for comment. When reporters for the Times reached Bynon by phone Thursday, he did not confirm that he had admitted to manipulating the data and referred further questions to UTHealth Houston.

On Friday, UTHealth Houston released a statement defending Bynon, saying that he is “an exceptionally talented and caring physician, and a pioneer in abdominal organ transplantation.” The statement continued by saying that the survival rates and outcomes for Dr. Bynon’s transplant patients are among the best in the country. “Our faculty and staff members, including Dr. Bynon, are assisting with the inquiry into Memorial Hermann’s liver transplant program and are committed to addressing and resolving any findings identified by this process,” it said.

Officials at Memorial Hermann told the Times that the data allegedly manipulated involved criteria for organ donors. When doctors place patients on a waiting list for an organ donation, they specify criteria for acceptable donors. This includes factors like a potential donor’s age and weight. But, according to the officials, entries for some of the patients in Bynon’s program had criteria that were set to impossible conditions, such as a patient only accepting organs from a toddler who weighed 300 pounds. This effectively made Bynon’s patients ineligible for a transplant.

The Chronicle notes that Memorial Hermann has seen increasing numbers of liver transplant candidates die or become too sick for a transplant while on the waitlist. According to federal data, in 2021, only four patients died or got too sick for a transplant while on the hospital’s liver transplant waiting list. In 2022, the number increased to 11, and in 2023, it was 14. So far this year, there are five patients who have died or gotten too sick while waiting.

If the allegations are true, it’s unclear what motivated Bynon to alter the data.

It’s also unclear when the hospital’s transplant programs will resume. In a statement Friday, Memorial Hermann said it is working to “make the necessary changes that will allow for the quick reactivation of the kidney transplant program under a different physician leadership structure.” It did not address when the liver transplant program may resume.

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