Texas surgeon accused of secretly refusing liver transplants

For decades, a transplant surgeon in Texas, Dr. J. Steve Bynon Jr. won accolades and national prominence for his work helping to enforce professional standards in the nation's sprawling organ transplant system.

But Dr. Authorities are now investigating allegations that Bynon secretly manipulated a government database to make some of his own patients ineligible for new livers.

Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston, where Dr. Binon oversaw both the liver and kidney transplant programs, which he abruptly halted last week in light of the allegations.

On Thursday, the medical center, a teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Texas, said in a statement that a doctor in its liver transplant program admitted to altering patient records. The hospital said this effectively ruled out a transplant. Working at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, Dr. Officials identified Bynon as the person contracted to lead Memorial Hermann's stomach transplant program since 2011.

It is not clear what might have motivated Dr Binon. Reached by phone Thursday, he referred questions to UTHealth Houston. He did not confirm that he admitted to altering the records.

On Friday, after the article was published online, UTHealth Houston issued a statement defending Dr. Pione as “an exceptionally skilled and caring physician and pioneer in abdominal organ transplantation.” The report said the survival rate of Dr. Bynon's transplant patients was among the best in the country. “Our faculty and staff, including Dr. Bynon, are assisting with the investigation of Memorial Hermann's liver transplant program and are committed to addressing and resolving any findings identified by this process,” it said.

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Founded in 1925, Memorial Hermann is a large hospital in Houston, but it has a relatively small liver transplant program. Last year, it performed 29 liver transplants, one of the fewest programs in Texas, according to federal data.

In recent years, Memorial Hermann patients have died disproportionately while waiting for a liver, data show. Last year, 14 patients died or were removed from the center's waiting list because they were too sick, and the death rate for people waiting for a transplant was higher than expected, according to a research group, the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.

This year, as of last month, five patients have died or become too ill to receive liver transplants, while the hospital has performed three transplants, records show. The trial is in its early stages, and it is unclear whether potential changes to the waiting list actually resulted in the patient not receiving a liver. A hospital spokeswoman said the center treated more seriously ill patients than average.

The US Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that it was also 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 seriousness of this allegation,” the HHS statement said. “We are working diligently to address this issue with due diligence.”

Officials started an investigation on the complaint. An analysis found what the hospital called “irregularities” in how patients were classified on the liver transplant waiting list. When doctors place a patient on the list, they must identify the types of donors they are considering, including the person's age and weight.

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Hospital officials said they found patients listed as unable to accept only donors whose age and weight — for example, a 300-pound toddler — meant they couldn't get any transplants.

Other transplant surgeons may not be aware of changes in their status if the list is modified.

“They're sitting at home, maybe not traveling, thinking that at any moment they can get an organ opportunity, but in reality, they're acting passively, so they're not going to get that transplant,” said Dr. Sanjay Kulkarni. , vice chair of the ethics committee at the United Network for Organ Sharing. “It's very unusual, I've never heard of it before, and it's very inappropriate.”

It is not known how many patients were affected by the changes and when they started, the hospital said in its statement. The problems only affected the liver transplant program, but the hospital also shut down the kidney transplant program as it was headed by the same doctor.

Dr. Bynon, 64, spent his career in stomach transplantation and is considered one of the earliest practitioners of advanced liver transplantation. He spent nearly 20 years at the University of Alabama at Birmingham before moving to Texas in 2011.

Some former colleagues Dr.

“In my experience, everything he did was about the patient,” said Dr. Brendan McGuire, medical director of liver transplantation at the Alabama program, who is Dr. Worked with Binon for over a decade. “When he transplanted someone, that person was a patient for the rest of their life.”

On its LinkedIn page, the University of Texas Health Science Center once displayed a photo Dr. Bynon on a billboard. The sign said, “Dr. Bynon gives transplant patients a new lease of life.

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Dr. Bynon is a member of the United Network for Organ Sharing and serves on the Professional Standards Committee, which investigates wrongdoing in the transplant system.

Most recently, in December, Dr. Bynon Made headlines Ben Barnes, former Lt. Governor of Texas, for his kidney transplant.

The closing of programs at Memorial Hermann has surprised many in the transplant community.

According to the hospital, at the time its plans were suspended, Memorial Hermann had 38 patients on its liver transplant waiting list and 346 patients on its kidney list.

Officials said they are contacting those patients to find new providers.

Ronnie Carr's Robin Contributed report. Susan C. Peachy And Kirsten Noyes Research contributed.

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