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Doctor Accused of Thwarting Patients' Transplants

J. Steve Bynon Jr. oversees abdominal transplants at Texas' Memorial Hermann
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 12, 2024 6:38 AM CDT
Doctor Accused of Thwarting Patients' Transplants
Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center is pictured in 2006.   (Wikimedia/Ed Uthman)

The surgeon who's led the abdominal transplant program at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston since 2011 is accused of altering records to potentially deny patients a shot at a life-saving liver. The hospital abruptly shut down its liver and kidney transplant programs in recent days after the doctor, identified by the New York Times as Dr. J. Steve Bynon Jr., admitted to changing patient records, the hospital said. Bynon, who performed a kidney transplant for former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes of Texas in December, is accused of altering a government database to make some of his patients ineligible to receive new livers. Where he was to state the age and weight of suitable donors for a patient, he allegedly entered impossibilities like "a 300-pound toddler," per the Times.

"It's highly unusual, I've never heard of it before, and it's also highly inappropriate," says Dr. Sanjay Kulkarni, vice chair of the ethics committee at the United Network for Organ Sharing, which is investigating alongside the hospital and the Department of Health and Human Services. Kulkarni tells the Times patients were likely sitting at home unaware, waiting to hear that a new liver had been found for them. But the "inappropriate changes… effectively inactivated the candidates on the liver transplant waiting list" so they "did not/were not able to receive organ donation offers," the hospital said, per the Houston Chronicle. A complaint first alerted officials to "irregularities" in records of patients waiting for liver transplants.

It's unclear if any changes resulted in a patient not receiving a liver. But data shows "a disproportionate number of Memorial Hermann patients have died while waiting for a liver" in recent years, the Times reports. Fourteen patients were removed from the waiting list last year because they were too sick or had died, and another five were removed in the first three months of this year, a period in which only three transplants took place. A hospital rep noted, however, that the center treats patients who are more severely ill than average, per the Times. Amid the investigation, the hospital is working to find new providers for the 38 patients on its liver transplant waiting list and 346 patients on the kidney waiting list. It's not known how long the hospital's transplant programs will remain closed. (More Texas stories.)

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