Simon Bramhall finished transplanting the liver inside his patient in 2013 before going back for a final flourish.
Bramhall, now 57, used an electric beam to burn the letters “S” and “B” into the organ he’d just put into the patient.
The doctor had branded the unsuspecting woman’s new liver with his monogram. But another surgeon discovered the initials during a follow-up surgery when the organ failed about a week later.
On Monday, Bramhall lost his ability to practice medicine. The 2013 liver transplant at a hospital in Birmingham, England, was one of two times the once-respected doctor burned his initials into a patient’s organ, according to official disciplinary records. It was something he said he did to relieve stress during long, difficult transplant operations, the Guardian reported.
For those misdeeds, Bramhall was convicted of assault in 2017 and fined.
In stripping his license, the organization that reviews complaints against doctors in the United Kingdom, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, determined Bramhall’s actions were “borne out of a degree of professional arrogance” and “undermined” people’s trust in the medical profession, according to the Guardian.
In 2018, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, where Bramhall was employed, told BBC News the surgeon had made “a mistake” but said it had “no impact whatsoever on the quality of his clinical outcomes.”
Bramhall, who became a doctor in 1988, used an argon beam coagulator to burn his initials into patients at the end of their surgeries, once in February 2013 and again in August of that year, according to disciplinary records published by the tribunal service. Surgeons use the electric beams to stop bleeding during operations and to mark an area in preparation for upcoming procedures. Such marks normally heal and disappear. But at least one of the livers Bramhall branded was otherwise damaged, leaving it unable to heal and erase the doctor’s initials, the BBC reported.
Bramhall was suspended from Queen Elizabeth Hospital by the end of 2013 and resigned the following May when he told the BBC he had made “a mistake.” In 2017, he pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and was later fined 10,000 pounds. At his sentencing, the judge acknowledged that the physical harm the patients suffered was “no more than transient or trifling,” although he said the emotional and psychological impact was severe, the Daily Mail reported.
One of the victims in a statement said she was “unable to switch off from the ordeal I have been through” and had “constant flashbacks,” according to the Daily Mail.
The judge scolded Bramhall.
“What you did was an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust that these patients had invested in you,” the judge said, according to the BBC.
In December 2020, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service suspended the surgeon’s medical license for five months, finding he was still unqualified to practice medicine. But the organization invited him to submit a letter making a case that he was fit to practice again. Bramhall did so, calling his crimes “an extreme lapse of judgement.”
“My actions in 2013 were stupid and entirely wrong,” he wrote, according to the tribunal’s disciplinary records. “Such a fall from grace has undoubtedly changed my behaviour and views, and I believe that I am no longer the arrogant surgeon that I was in 2013.”
In April 2021, a new tribunal found he was fit to practice, but that determination was overruled in this week’s decision.
Before branding patients’ organs, Bramhall made the news in a positive light. In 2010, he successfully put a liver into one of the sickest people on the transplant list in the U.K., even after the plane transporting it had crashed on its way from Belfast to Birmingham. At the time, Bramhall said he was surprised the liver had survived the crash intact.
“Crashing and burning,” he told BBC News, “is not something we normally do with our donor livers.”
Bramhall has written several works of fiction with co-author Fionn Murphy, dubbed “Scalpel Stories” on their website. The two met in 2012 when Bramhall operated on Murphy and, according to the site, saved her life.
One of their books — “The Letterman” — is about a surgeon exposed for inscribing his initials on a donor liver during a lifesaving transplant operation, upending his life and the life of his patient while creating a firestorm in the media and the medical world.
The Scalpel Stories website includes a description of the work. The opening line: “All it takes is a split second. One moment’s madness — and nothing will ever be the same again.”