Liver Branding: The gift that stays with you

Some people commemorate time spent together by etching their names onto an old tree or desk; others might get matching tattoos; and some just send a card. None of these gestures of love and camaraderie were enough for British surgeon Simon Bramhall, who burned his initials into at least two of his patients’ livers.

Another doctor stumbled across Bramhall’s handiwork while performing follow-up surgery on one of the transplant patients in 2013, and he reported it to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where Bramhall worked, which then suspended him, according to the Washington Post. Although Bramhall was briefly reinstated in April 2014, he decided to voluntarily resign a month later in the midst of an ongoing investigation by the hospital.

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This Tuesday, the AP reported, Bramhall pled guilty to not one but two counts of assault by beating (he avoided a more serious charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm). The guilty plea not only accounts for the female patient whose liver he branded in 2013, but another male transplant patient that same year. The 53-year-old Bramhall has been released on bail for now, and his sentencing is scheduled for January.

With a hint of understatement, following Bramhall’s plea, Crown Prosecutor Tony Badenoch 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.”

The device Bramhall used to key the livers is called an argon beam coagulator. Using a stream of argon gas that conducts an electric current, the device can stop bleeding or help sketch out the areas of the liver that need to be operated on. Ordinarily, the marks the device makes are hardly damaging and fade away quickly, since the beam only penetrates the surface of tissue. Unfortunately for Bramhall, the liver he was caught branding was in bad shape already and so didn’t heal right, leaving his ‘SB’ easy to spot.

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Left unanswered in this insane story is why Bramhall did it. At the time, he was a celebrated surgeon of 12 years who got a round of atta-boys in 2010 after he performed a transplant surgery using a liver that had been rescued from a burning plane. In 2014, following his resignation, he admitted having made a mistake, while adding with no hint of awareness the situation had made him feel “a bit raw.”

Bramhall’s case may be without legal precedent, but he somehow isn’t the first doctor to be caught branding his patients. In 1999, a doctor carved his initials onto his patient’s abdomen following a C-section, and in 2010, a gynecologist was sued after he laser-burned his initials on the uterus he removed from his 47-year-old patient. On the other hand, at least Bramhall isn’t the fertility doctor who was caught donating his own sperm to impregnate around 50 of his unsuspecting patients.

[AP]

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