This is the first in a five-part investigative series on how an OB/GYN named Thomas J. Byrne managed to regain his medical license in multiple states after health officials in New York declared him to be an “imminent danger” to the public and revoked his license decades earlier.
It was a rare injury during what is typically a routine medical procedure.
A baby boy, born at Harlem Hospital in Manhattan in December 2020, was cut down his lower back and buttocks with a surgical instrument while an OB-GYN performed a cesarean section, according to a malpractice complaint filed by the child's parents in New York State Supreme Court. It alleges that the physician who delivered the infant — Dr. Thomas J. Byrne — acted negligently by not identifying the baby’s position and failing to use the right surgical tools.
“The defendants were careless,” reads the complaint, which was also filed against Harlem Hospital and the public agency that runs it, NYC Health + Hospitals, alleging that the baby “was caused severe pain and suffering.”
But the fact that Byrne was practicing in New York at all was remarkable in itself.
In 1991, he was stripped of his New York medical license after health department officials determined he was an “imminent danger” to patients. A state investigation found Byrne guilty of gross negligence, gross incompetence and obtaining a license fraudulently, among other charges.
As a nonprofit journalism organization, we depend on your support to fund more than 170 reporting projects every year on critical global and local issues. Donate any amount today to become a Pulitzer Center Champion and receive exclusive benefits!
New York officials restored Byrne’s medical license in 2014, a rare reversal according to data from the state health department and those familiar with the licensing process. A summary of his restoration application — which was obtained via a request for public records under the state’s Freedom of Information Law — notes that Byrne had gone on to practice in New Mexico and Oklahoma after his New York license was revoked “with no problems.”
But a Gothamist investigation found that Byrne has a decadeslong record of malpractice allegations. According to over 4,000 pages of public documents and court filings, former patients and their family members across multiple states have filed nearly two dozen lawsuits throughout his career that allege he negligently caused injury or death. That total is well above an average of one to three malpractice lawsuits for OB-GYNs, according to physicians surveyed by the American Medical Association and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists about the number of claims they had been named in over the course of their careers to date.
The facts around how Byrne was able to lose his license in one state and still practice in others, and how he was able to regain his New York license in spite of so many claims of malpractice or negligence, illustrate the shortcomings of a number of entities, including state licensing boards, hospitals and national agencies that are supposed to protect the public and prevent physicians with concerning track records from practicing and moving between states and hospitals.
Over the past several months, Gothamist tried repeatedly to contact Byrne by phone, email, text message and certified letter. In two instances, he answered calls and verified who he was, but hung up on a journalist. Journalists also went to his current workplaces at St. Barnabas Health in the Bronx and at Texas Tech Physicians in Amarillo, Texas, in hopes of speaking to him about this investigation. He never responded to the inquiries, and refused to speak to the journalist who visited him in Texas.
Several of Byrne’s current and former colleagues declined to be interviewed. Those who spoke with Gothamist on the record questioned his fitness to safely practice medicine.
A “reference report” generated by a company conducting a background check on Byrne on behalf of a hospital in Oklahoma in 2000 was included in court records obtained by Gothamist. It quotes a former supervisor at the University of New Mexico, Dr. Michael Owen Gardner, who said he had “difficulty” with Byrne while Byrne was a fellow in training at the university between 1994 and 1996.
"There are some ethical issues about his being honest. He may be clinically competent, but he's just not honest with records and billing. I'm the director of OB-GYN here, and I would not let him work in my hospital," Gardner told an employee of the company conducting the background check. “If you allow him on your staff, I would recommend an increased level of scrutiny prior to getting full privileges.”
Gothamist also reviewed roughly a dozen letters of recommendation written by other doctors about Byrne in the years shortly after his New York medical license was revoked. They spoke positively of Byrne’s skills and quality of care when he was applying for new positions and a medical license in another state.
In 1993, Dr. Philip M. Mcreedy, who worked with Byrne in Alamogordo, New Mexico, called him “an exceptional physician who is capable of dealing with the patients' clinical problems in a very professional and competent manner.”
“I am aware of Dr. Byrne's problems in the state of New York,” Dr. Sandford L. Yankow, an OB-GYN in New Mexico, wrote in 1997. “I have no reservations about his ability, character or medical skills and/or judgment.”
Byrne no longer works at Harlem Hospital. The lawsuit over the lacerated baby is currently set to go to trial. A date has not been set.
‘She felt the baby coming’
In August 2016 – four years before the 2020 incident at Harlem Hospital – Amy Lam, a 34-year-old journalist who’d recently moved to New York from Hong Kong, was living in an apartment in West Harlem and expecting her second child.
Lam planned to give birth at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in Downtown Manhattan but she had instead given birth at home, unexpectedly.
“All of a sudden she felt the baby coming,” said Susan Karten, a medical malpractice attorney who represented Lam’s family in a lawsuit. “The neighbor helped and thank God everything was fine.“
When EMS arrived they noted in their records that Lam was “alert and oriented.” But paramedics also suggested they take her to a hospital because her placenta had not been expelled during birth. Karten said they gave Lam’s husband two options: New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University, located about two miles uptown, or Harlem Hospital.
They went to Harlem Hospital because it was closer, according to Karten. En route to the hospital, in the back of the ambulance, Lam snapped a selfie. She and her husband are both smiling in the photo.
After doctors removed her placenta, Lam’s blood pressure started to drop. What followed was a cascade of medical procedures, including more than 20 blood transfusions, and at least five physicians treating her over the course of about 10 hours.
One of those physicians was Byrne.
Lam’s hospital records show he performed an ultrasound on her and prescribed methergine, a medication used for postpartum hemorrhage. When that didn’t work, another doctor opened her abdomen and found severe internal bleeding. Byrne then performed a hysterectomy, removing her uterus and at least one of her ovaries. A vascular surgeon continued to operate on Lam but wasn’t able to stop the bleeding.
Lam died roughly 11 hours after giving birth in her apartment. Medical records show she had lost her entire blood volume.
The New York medical examiner later wrote that Lam’s aorta — the body’s main artery — had dissected and ruptured in the operating room. The autopsy report noted that it wasn’t clear whether the rupture was the result of the medical care she received or occurred naturally.
NYC Health + Hospitals declined to comment on Lam’s case, which eventually settled for $3 million. In court records, attorneys for the hospital said what happened to her was "... a rare and unforeseeable, lethal event,” but Karten and her medical experts argued that Lam’s life could have been saved if the doctors had acted differently and tried to identify the source of the bleeding sooner.
"He will continue to be a danger to his patients if allowed to practice in the future.”
— Conclusion from the New York State Department of Health's investigation into Dr. Thomas J. Byrne in 1991
A signed expert affirmation written by an OB-GYN who testified on behalf of Lam’s family but whose name was redacted from the court records obtained by Gothamist states that “Dr. Byrne did not act in accord with acceptable practices via his performance of a hysterectomy” and that it was not medically necessary.
“Dr. Byrne's performance of the hysterectomy instead of gaining vascular control of her bleeding was a departure from good and accepted practices, which led to further delay in treating her,” the affirmation said.
Lam’s husband later filed complaints against three of the physicians involved with New York’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct, which is part of the health department – the same agency that investigated Byrne before his license was revoked in 1991. In a letter dated Sept. 11, 2023 that was reviewed by Gothamist, the office confirmed it had received the complaints and an investigator had been assigned to review the information submitted.
An imminent danger
Karten said she first learned of Byrne’s history while deposing him as part of the lawsuit she filed on behalf of Lam’s family.
“I said, ‘have you continuously [been] licensed in New York?’ And he said, ‘no,’” Karten recalled.
Public records show that New York officials revoked Byrne’s medical license in 1991 after a string of tragic outcomes in Geneva and Newark — both small communities in the Finger Lakes region.
Byrne had come to work there after attending medical school at Loyola University in Chicago and OB-GYN residencies in North Carolina and New York City in the 1980s.
Around 1990, the state began investigating cases involving at least 11 of his patients who were injured or died over the span of two years — the majority of them were mothers and their newborns. In one instance, Byrne was found to have deviated from “standards of acceptable medical care” in a manner that “caused or contributed” to severe brain damage in a baby boy.
In another case, he was found to have used an “excessive and inappropriate” number of traction pulls with a vacuum extractor during the birth of an infant girl who died two weeks later. It was also determined that, at one hospital, Byrne had failed to comply with restrictions put on his privileges that required him to consult with other staff in high-risk situations.
“Respondent's unwillingness or inability to comply with these restrictions demonstrates that he will continue to be a danger to his patients if allowed to practice in the future,” the state’s conclusions read.
But about a year after New York revoked Byrne’s license, he managed to get a medical license in New Mexico and then later in Oklahoma. More medical malpractice lawsuits followed in these states. The cases include alleged injuries such as a perforated colon, a damaged ureter and a damaged bowel. Another complaint accused Byrne of leaving a sponge inside a patient’s body after surgery.
Decades later, in 2014, New York state restored his license — without any restrictions — allowing him to practice in the state once again.
“I am a knowledgeable physician who specializes in a high-risk field, and since 1992 I have practiced medicine in other states with a valid license without incident,” Byrne told the committees reviewing his petition on behalf of the New York State Education Department, which oversees professional licensing.
“He has also cared for patients in underserved areas of those states who are otherwise unable to afford needed health care,” the committee members noted.
Keshia Clukey, a spokesperson for the state education department, said in a written statement that the agency couldn’t comment or “disclose information specific to the investigation into Dr. Byrne’s application for restoration.”
She noted that members of the Board of Regents, who are elected by the state Legislature, carefully consider a variety of issues and materials to determine whether a doctor is again fit to practice, including affidavits from other physicians willing to testify.
“The loss of one's license to practice a profession is a very serious matter. While the Board of Regents has the authority to restore a professional license, such restoration is not a RIGHT [emphasis included],” the statement said. “The former licensee must carry the burden of proving that he or she is worthy of having the privilege of a professional license restored.”
The education department denied Gothamist’s request for a copy of Byrne’s restoration application, citing that restoration applications are not public records.