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Dr. Death: The Texas Surgeon Who Paralyzed his Patients

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In the span of two years, Dr. Death a.k.a. Christopher Duntsch performed operations on 38 patients in Texas, botching 35 of them, according to the Dallas Observer. The surgeries included two fatalities and either paralysis or serious injury for many others. Duntsch’s career started off on a high note, graduating from a top-tier medical school and becoming a member of the Alpha Omega Medical Honor Society, but in a matter of only a short time, something went disastrously wrong.

Despite his successes, which included running two labs and raising millions in medical grants, those who were close with him say his life began to spiral as early as 2006. A former girlfriend of one of Duntsch’s friends witnessed him take LSD and prescription painkillers on his birthday and keeping cocaine on his home office dresser. She also witnessed a night of partying at which Duntsch took both drugs after which he proceeded to don his lab coat to go to work. The result: from 2011 to 2013, his patients in the Dallas, Texas, area were waking after surgery experiencing horrible pain, sometimes numbness and even paralysis. In at least two instances, his patients died due to surgical complications, leading to the ominous Dr. Death nickname Duntsch would receive over the course of the investigation.

Dr. Death: The Texas Surgeon Who Paralyzed his Patients

Photo: Pixabay.com

Although it had been revealed that Duntsch had been required to attend an impaired physician program following his refusal to take a drug test, he was still allowed to finish his residency and was eventually recruited to Texas from Tennessee in the summer of 2011. Shortly thereafter, he managed a deal with Plano’s Baylor Regional Medical Center, and granted surgical rights. So began the two-year stretch of surgical complications that marked his work in the Lone Star State. How did he manage to continue luring patients despite botched procedures? His counterparts say his extreme confidence was integral. As an example, fellow surgeon Dr. Mark Hoyle, having worked with Duntsch during one of the sub-standard surgeries, told D Magazine that Duntsch would make tremendously conceited statements such as: “Everybody is doing it wrong. I’m the only clean minimally invasive guy in the whole state.”

Dr. Death: The Texas Surgeon Who Paralyzed his Patients

Photo: Pixabay.com

After performing one surgery through the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute, Duntsch was fired. He then left the state for a trip, leaving his patient without care or follow-up. Although he was fired from the Institute, he maintained his surgical rights at Baylor Plano. Despite a temporary suspension of his surgical rights following a botched procedure, he was allowed to continue practicing. Subsequently, his next patient would become the first fatality resulting from his blunders, bleeding out in the intensive care unit following a procedure that was deemed common amongst such practices. Duntsch filed his resignation at Baylor Plano following this incident, which meant he couldn’t be fired. He then pursued work with the Dallas Medical Center, leaving in his wake a consistent list of failures. Here, the second fatality as a result of an oversight by Duntsch took place in July of 2012. On the same day that this occurred, he completed a second surgery, resulting in an amputated nerve root, misplaced screw holes, and a screw misplacement, adding up to the patient suffering from severe pain and an inability to stand.

Dr. Death: The Texas Surgeon Who Paralyzed his Patients

Photo: Pixabay.com

Following the results of these two procedures, Duntsch was fired before the end of his first week but continued to maintain his surgical privileges in Texas. Following an acute consistency of botched procedures, he finally lost these privileges when two physicians went to the Texas Medical Board with complaints. According to reports, he was then indicted by a grand jury in July 2015. Dr. Death received a sentence of life in prison in February 2017 for five counts of aggravated assault and one count of harming an elderly person. He is presently in the process of appealing his sentence.

Why was Dr. Death allowed to continue inflicting carnage on his patients for so long? Texas law makes it incredibly difficult to sue doctors. In addition, the legal teams for hospitals often prefer not to fire troublesome or incompetent doctors out of fear of a lawsuit filed by a fired doctor. It’s a tragic case of the legal system failing to look out for the best interests of patients.