It might have been triggered by an urge to quench the thirst for fame, or perhaps as an act of copyrighting—a prominent celebrated British liver, spleen and pancreatic surgeon of 12 years, has pleaded guilty to burning his initials on the livers of two of the patients that he operated on. Both incidents took place in 2013, when Dr Simon Bramhall worked at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

With the use of an argon beam coagulator—typically used to seal blood vessels—the 53-year old surgeon branded a female and male patient’s livers during their respective transplant operations in 2013.

Typically, the marks would fade as the livers healed. However, the female patient’s liver did not heal properly and the burnt initials of Dr Bramhall were discovered by another doctor, who performed a follow-surgery on her. Dr Bramhall was immediately reported and consequently suspended.

A surgeon who saved lives

British surgeon Dr Simon Bramhall has admitted assaulting two patients by burning his initials into their livers during transplant operations. Photo credit: simonbramhallpbsurgeon.co.uk/Toronto Star
British surgeon Dr Simon Bramhall has admitted assaulting two patients by burning his initials into their livers during transplant operations. Photo credit: simonbramhallpbsurgeon.co.uk/Toronto Star

However, in April 2014, Dr Bramhall was reinstated—with an ongoing internal investigation—after one of his patients urged the hospital to reinstate Bramhall “so that he can save more lives”, as he did in 2010, where he gained fame after performing a transplant using a liver recovered from a private plane crash. In addition, the 50-year-old patient provided an emotional account of how Dr Bramhall operated on her a decade ago, after she was told that she had just two weeks to live.

Despite being reinstated, Dr Bramhall resigned a month later due to stress-induced illness. He admitted his mistake and said, “I was not dismissed. I made the decision on 16 May I would hand in my notice. It is a bit raw and I have to move on.”

On 13 December 2017, Dr Bramhall pled guilty to two counts of assault by beating. He has been released on bail and is awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled to take place in January 2018. Left unanswered is why Dr Bramhall did it.

Not the first doctor to brand his initials

Dr Bramhall’s case may be shocking, but he is not the first to have had an interest in branding his work. A doctor once carved his initials on the abdomen of a patient after a C-section in an incident that happened in 1999.

Dr Allan Zarkin assisted Liana Gedz for seven months of pre-natal care and developed a friendship that went beyond a doctor-patient relationship with her. Therefore, on 8 September 1999, Dr Gedz, a dentist, was struck with disbelief when she discovered that Dr Zarkin had carved his initials “A.Z.” on her abdomen after helping her deliver her baby girl through C-section.

“I feel like a branded animal,” said Dr Gedz.

Dr Zarkin was sued and brought to court which resulted in a USD5.5 million civil lawsuit. His lawyer argued that Dr Zarkin was suffering from Alzheimer’s as justification to what he did.

Separately, in 2010, a gynaecologist was brought before a court on the offence of branding his 47-year-old patient’s initials with the use of laser burning tool on the uterus that he removed. Dr Red Alinsod described the act as a “friendly gesture” because the female patient was a “good friend”.

Dr Red Alinsod claims the unusual act of branding his patient’s name on her removed uterus, was simply a “friendly gesture”. Photo credit: Daily Mail Online
Dr Red Alinsod claims the unusual act of branding his patient’s name on her removed uterus, was simply a “friendly gesture”. Photo credit: Daily Mail Online

The patient, Ingrid Paulicivic from California, was not amused. She only discovered his actions when she went for a follow-up visit to complain about the burns on her legs, which she suffered during the procedure. She requested to see images of the operation upon which, she saw the doctor writing on the uterus. She also saw pictures of him holding up the organ to show that “Ingrid” was branded on it.

No law to punish these acts

Commenting on Dr Bramhall’s case, Tony Badenoch, the crown prosecutor, said, “This has been a highly unusual and complex case. It is factually, so far as we have been able to establish, without legal precedent in criminal law.”

Crown Prosecution Service specialist prosecutor Elizabeth Reid also said Dr Bramhall has abused his power as “a respected surgeon”.

“It was intentional application of unlawful force to a patient whilst anaesthetised,” she added.

But Dr Bramhall’s actions, like those similar before him, can only be ‘encouraged’ not to be repeated—due to the lack of governing law.

The General Medical Council echoed, “It risks bringing the profession into disrepute and it must not be repeated. Whilst this failing in itself is not so serious as to require any restriction on Mr Bramhall’s registration, it is necessary in response to issue this formal warning.” MIMS

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Sources:
https://gizmodo.com/the-doctor-who-branded-a-patients-liver-with-his-initia-1821304653
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2017/12/14/he-was-a-renowned-surgeon-until-a-doctor-found-his-initials-burned-on-a-patients-liver/
https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2017/12/15/uk-surgeon-who-etched-his-initials-on-patients-livers-is-convicted-of-assault.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2000/01/22/nyregion/doctor-carved-his-initials-into-patient-lawsuit-says.html
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1311923/Doctor-sued-carving-patients-removed-uterus-friendly-gesture.html