Christopher Duntsch

Christopher Daniel Duntsch (born April 3, 1971)[1] is a former neurosurgeon who has been nicknamed Dr. D. and Dr. Death[2] for gross malpractice resulting in the death and maiming of 33 patients while working at hospitals in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.[3]

Christopher Daniel Duntsch
Born (1971-04-03) April 3, 1971 (age 49)
Alma materMemphis State University
OccupationSpine surgeon (former)
Conviction(s)February 20, 2017
Criminal chargeInjury to an elderly person
PenaltyLife imprisonment
Imprisoned atO. B. Ellis Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, earliest possible parole July 20, 2045

Duntsch was accused of maiming four patients and killing two others. He was convicted of maiming one of his patients in 2017 and sentenced to life imprisonment.[4]

Early life and educationEdit

Christopher Duntsch was born in Montana, but spent most of his youth in Memphis, Tennessee. He is a graduate of Evangelical Christian School in Cordova, a suburb of Memphis. Duntsch initially had ambitions of playing college football, but was unable to catch on at either Division III Millsaps College or Division I Colorado State University. By the time he returned home to attend Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis), he had exhausted his eligibility. He then set his sights on becoming a neurosurgeon.[5]

Duntsch completed the MD–PhD and neurosurgery residency programs at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center,[3] and subsequently completed a spine fellowship program there as well.[6] In what proved to be foreshadowing of things to come, he was suspected of being under the influence of cocaine while operating during his fourth year of residency. Duntsch was sent to an impaired physicians program and then was allowed to return to his residency program.[7] He completed his residency having participated in fewer than 100 total surgeries, a small fraction of the average of over 1000 surgeries for a neurosurgery resident.[5]

CareerEdit

Duntsch began operating in Texas in 2010,[8] when he moved to Dallas to work at Baylor Plano. Early on, he left a bad impression with his fellow surgeons. One longtime vascular surgeon, Randall Kirby, recalled that Duntsch frequently boasted about his abilities despite being so new to the area.[9]

Several of Duntsch's operations at Baylor Plano ended with patients severely maimed. Duntsch severed a major artery in patient Kelli Martin's spine, causing her to bleed to death. Soon afterward, Baylor forced his resignation. Duntsch then moved on to Dallas Medical Center in Farmers Branch, where he was employed for less than a week before he was dismissed by administrators after the death of another patient, Floella Brown, and the maiming of another, Mary Efurd.[6][5] He severed Brown's vertebral artery, which ultimately caused her to die from a stroke. A day later, he severed one of Efurd's nerve roots during spinal fusion surgery and left surgical hardware in her back muscles. Longtime spine surgeon Robert Henderson performed the salvage surgery on Efurd, and likened Duntsch's work on her to a child playing with Tinkertoys or an erector set. Efurd was left paralyzed as a result.[9] There is no information available indicating what investigation the state licensing agency did, or if Dallas Medical Center notified the Texas Medical Board.

In December 2011, according to court proceedings, Duntsch emailed a colleague, saying, "I am ready to leave the love and kindness and goodness and patience that I mix with everything else that I am and become a cold blooded killer."[10]

Medical license revocation and criminal convictionEdit

After leaving Dallas Medical Center, Duntsch received a job at an outpatient clinic named Legacy Surgery Center. Meanwhile, Methodist Hospital in Dallas, where Duntsch had applied for a job, reported him to the National Practitioner Data Bank. Even after this report, Duntsch was hired by University General Hospital in Dallas in the spring of 2013. Soon afterward, he severely maimed Jeff Glidewell after mistaking part of his neck muscle for a tumor, severing one of his vocal cords, cutting a hole in his esophagus, slicing an artery and leaving a surgical sponge embedded in his throat.[5] Kirby was rushed in to repair the damage, and later described what he found after opening Glidewell back up as the work of a "crazed maniac." He later told Glidewell that it was clear Duntsch had tried to kill him. Glidewell was left with only one vocal cord and was partially paralyzed on his left side.[9]

Under heavy lobbying from Henderson and Kirby, the Texas Medical Board suspended Duntsch's license on June 26, 2013, and subsequently revoked it on December 6. Duntsch moved to the Denver area, and his life went into a downward spiral. He was arrested for DUI in Denver, taken for a psychiatric evaluation in Dallas during one of his visits to see his children, and was arrested in Dallas for shoplifting.[5]

In March 2014, three former patients of Duntsch - Efurd, Kenneth Fennel, and Lee Passmore - filed separate federal lawsuits against Baylor Plano, alleging that the hospital allowed Duntsch to perform surgeries despite knowing that he was a dangerous physician.[11] Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a motion to intervene in the suits to defend Baylor Plano, citing the Texas legislature's 2003 statute that placed a medical malpractice cap of $250,000, along with the statute's removal of the term "gross negligence" from the definition of legal malice; the suit alleged that Baylor Plano made an average net profit of $65,000 on every spinal surgery performed by Duntsch.[12]

Henderson and Kirby feared that Duntsch could move elsewhere and still theoretically get a medical license. Convinced that he was a clear and present danger to the public, they urged the Dallas County district attorney's office to pursue criminal charges.[9] The inquiry went nowhere until 2015, when the statute of limitations on any potential charges was due to run out. Part of the problem was being able to prove that Duntsch's actions were willful and intentional as defined by Texas law. After interviewing dozens of Duntsch's patients and their survivors, prosecutors concluded that Duntsch's actions were indeed criminal, and nothing short of imprisonment would prevent him from practicing medicine again. As part of their investigation, they obtained the 2011 email in which Duntsch boasted about his desire to become a "cold blooded killer."[5][9][10]

In July 2015, approximately a year and a half after his license was revoked, Duntsch was arrested in Dallas and charged with six felony counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (i.e., his hands and surgical tools)-five counts of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury and one count of injury to a child, elderly or disabled person. The indictments were handed up just four months before the statute of limitations ran out.[13][9] The last charge was for the maiming and paralyzing of Efurd. Prosecutors put a high priority on that charge, as it provided the widest sentencing range, with Duntsch facing up to life in prison if convicted. Prosecutors sought a sentence long enough to ensure that Duntsch would never be able to practice medicine again.[14][7][5][9]

Over objections from Duntsch's lawyers, prosecutors called many of Duntsch's other patients to the stand in order to prove that his actions were intentional. According to his lawyers, Duntsch only realized how bad of a job he'd done as a surgeon when prosecution experts told the jury about his many blunders on the operating table.[5] His defense blamed Duntsch's actions on poor training and control by the hospitals.[15] After 13 days of trial, the jury needed only four hours to convict him for the maiming of Efurd.[14] On February 20, 2017 he was sentenced to life in prison.[15][16]

All four hospitals that employed Duntsch have an ongoing civil case against them.[15] On December 11, 2018, the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed Duntsch's conviction by a 2-1 split decision.[17] On May 8, 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused Duntsch’s petition for discretionary review.[18]

Duntsch, Texas Department of Criminal Justice #02139003, is housed at the O. B. Ellis Unit outside Huntsville. He will not be eligible for parole until 2045, when he will be 74 years old.[19]

ReactionsEdit

The conviction of Duntsch was one of the first prison sentences given for malpractice, and has been called a precedent-setting case.[20] The office of the district attorney prosecuting the case called it "a historic case with respect to prosecuting a doctor who had done wrong during surgery."[21]

The director of neurosurgery at UT Southwestern, Dr. Carlos Bagley, testifying for the defense, said that “the only way this happens is that the entire system fails the patients."[3]

In popular cultureEdit

Wondery Media launched the 6-episode series named Dr. Death, focusing on Duntsch.[22]

A mini-series based on the podcast will star Joshua Jackson, Alec Baldwin, and Christian Slater.[23]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Christopher Duntsch Indictments". Scribd.com. Archived from the original on 2017-02-17. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  2. ^ Goodman, Matt (November 2016). "Dr. Death - D Magazine". D Magazine. Archived from the original on 2017-02-22. Retrieved 2017-02-21.
  3. ^ a b c Eiserer, Tanya (February 13, 2017). "Dr. Duntsch defense expert: "The only way this happens is the entire system fails the patients"". WFAA. Archived from the original on February 17, 2017. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  4. ^ "Former Neurosurgeon Faces Life In Prison After Guilty Verdict". CBS Dallas / Fort Worth. February 14, 2017. Archived from the original on February 22, 2017. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Beil, Laura (2018-10-02). "A Surgeon So Bad It Was Criminal". ProPublica. Archived from the original on 2018-12-17. Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  6. ^ a b Swanson, Doug J. (March 1, 2014). "Plano's Baylor hospital faces hard questions after claims against former neurosurgeon". Dallas News. Archived from the original on February 22, 2017. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  7. ^ a b "Barry Morguloff's suit against the Baylor Health Care System" (PDF). The Texas Observer. March 25, 2014. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 7, 2016. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  8. ^ Martin, Naomi (August 21, 2015). "Surgeon who wrote of becoming killer is denied bail reduction". Dallas News. Archived from the original on February 18, 2017. Retrieved February 22, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g License To Kill: Deadly God Complex (Television Production). United States: Oxygen. 2019.
  10. ^ a b "Assault trial begins for Dallas surgeon who once wrote of becoming 'cold blooded killer'". Dallas News. 2 February 2017. Archived from the original on 28 January 2019. Retrieved 28 January 2019.
  11. ^ Solomon, Dan (March 27, 2014). "Greg Abbott Enters Fray in Lawsuits Involving "Sociopath" Doctor". Texas Monthly. Archived from the original on November 6, 2018. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  12. ^ Swanson, Doug J. (March 2014). "Abbott sides with Baylor hospital in neurosurgeon lawsuit". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on November 6, 2018. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  13. ^ "What you need to know about 'Dr. Death,' Dallas neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch," Archived 2018-09-26 at the Wayback Machine Dallas News, September 20, 2018, retrieved September 20, 2018.
  14. ^ a b Andrews, Travis M. (February 16, 2017). "Texas neurosurgeon nicknamed 'Dr. Death' found guilty of maiming woman during surgery," Archived 2017-02-16 at the Wayback Machine The Washington Post, retrieved February 21, 2017.
  15. ^ a b c "Former neurosurgeon sentenced for purposely maiming patients". CBS News. 2017-02-21. Archived from the original on 2017-02-23. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  16. ^ Eiserer, Tanya (February 21, 2017). "Doctor convicted of botched surgery gets life in prison," Archived 2017-08-24 at the Wayback Machine USA Today, retrieved February 21, 2017.
  17. ^ Council, John (2018-12-12). "Texas Court of Appeals Affirms Conviction of 'Dr. Death'". Texas Lawyer. Archived from the original on 2019-04-02. Retrieved 2020-04-15.
  18. ^ "Case Detail". search.txcourts.gov. Retrieved 2019-05-08.
  19. ^ Inmate information at Texas Department of Criminal Justice
  20. ^ "Texas Jury Imposes Life Sentence on Neurosurgeon | The Daily Voice". Thedailyvoicenews.com. 2017-02-21. Archived from the original on 2018-09-14. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  21. ^ "Former neurosurgeon sentenced for purposely maiming patients". CBS News. 2017-02-21. Archived from the original on 2017-02-23. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  22. ^ McDonell-Parry, Amelia; McDonell-Parry, Amelia (2018-09-04). "'Dr. Death': Inside 'Dirty John' Follow Up". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on 2018-11-16. Retrieved 2018-12-17.
  23. ^ "Jamie Dornan, Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater Lead 'Dr. Death', Based On Podcast – Deadline". Deadline – Hollywood Entertainment Breaking News. August 9, 2019. Archived from the original on December 13, 2019. Retrieved 2020-04-15.

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