Relatives of those who died waiting for livers at now halted Houston transplant program seek answers

DALLAS– Several family members of patients who died while waiting for a new liver said Wednesday they want to know whether their loved ones were wrongly denied a transplant by a Houston doctor accused of manipulating the waiting list to make some patients ineligible come for a new organ.

Officials at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center said they are investigating after discovering that a doctor made “inappropriate changes” to the national database for people awaiting a liver transplant. Earlier this month, the hospital suspended its liver and kidney programs.

Susie Garcia’s son, Richard Mostacci, died in February 2023 after being told he was too sick for a transplant. He was 43. “We saw him slip away, slip away and there was nothing we could do, and we trusted, we trusted the doctors,” Garcia said at a news conference.

She is one of several relatives of three patients who have retained attorneys at a Houston law firm that filed for a temporary restraining order Tuesday to prevent Dr. Steve Bynon removes or destroys evidence. Defense attorney Tommy Hastings said some interactions with Bynon had “raised concerns about perhaps some personal animosities and he may have taken it out on patients.”

“Again, we’re still very early in this investigation,” Hastings said.

The Hermann-Memorial statement did not name the doctor, but the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, or UTHealth Houston, issued a statement defending Bynon, calling him “an exceptionally talented and caring physician” with survival rates that ‘be among the best’. best in the country.”

Bynon is a UTHealth Houston employee contracted to Memorial Hermann. He did not respond to an email inquiry on Wednesday.

The hospital has said the inappropriate changes were made only in the liver transplant program, but because he shared control of both the liver and kidney transplant programs, they inactivated both.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also said it is conducting an investigation, adding that it is “working across the Department to address this matter.”

Neither Hermann Memorial, UTHealth or HHS had additional comment Wednesday.

Meanwhile, a woman who used a different law firm filed a lawsuit last week in Harris County against Memorial Hermann and UTHealth for negligence in the death of her husband, John Montgomery, who died in May 2023 at age 66 while on the waiting list for a liver transplant. . The lawsuit says Montgomery was told he wasn’t sick enough, then told he was too sick before he was finally taken off the list.

The death rate among people waiting for a liver transplant at Memorial Hermann has been higher than expected in recent years, according to publicly available data from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, which evaluates U.S. organ transplant programs. The group found that in the two-year period from July 2021 to June 2023, there were 19 deaths on the watch list, while models would have predicted about 14 deaths.

Although the hospital waitlist mortality rate of 28% was higher than expected, there were many liver programs with more extreme outcomes during the same period, Jon Snyder, director of the registry, said in an email.

He said the hospital’s first-year success rates for the 56 adults who received a transplant between July 2020 and December 2022 were 35% better than expected based on national results.