Meet Texas Dr. Death: The Surgeon That Killed & Maimed Patients
I have an irrational fear of getting any surgery, so it's lucky for me that I've only ever had to get a couple of stitches. We have to trust our health, mobility, and even our lives to the surgeon and team that cuts us open, but at least we can be assured that they've been properly educated, trained, and vetted before they enter the operating floor...right?
What happens when an unqualified person manages to slither their way in? What happens if they botch a surgery? What happens if they botch several surgeries, leaving people grievously injured or dead? It could never happen.. and yet it did, right here in Texas.
Meet Christopher Duntsch, also known as "Dr. Death" after two of his patients died, and many others were left seriously maimed. We will take a look at his life, his "career," his punishment, and how he would later go on to...steal pants. Yes, you read that right.
Christopher Duntsch was a star football player in high school; however, he had less success on the field once he entered college. After bouncing between schools, he decided to pursue a medical degree, which he successfully obtained from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
Oddly, he finished his residency having participated in less than 10% of the typical amount of surgeries that most students do. He was also suspected of using cocaine during his final year in the program and was sent to a program for "impaired physicians" before he was allowed to return to his residency.
Duntsch focused primarily on writing papers at the beginning of his career, but after he found himself deeply in debt, he decided to begin a career in neurosurgery. He moved to Plano, Texas and shall we say, fudged, his resume a bit to obtain a position as a spine surgeon. He was arrogant and overly confident, managing to "sell" himself to patients as the only, "clean, minimally invasive" doctor in Texas.
He botched several of his surgeries during his tenure at Baylor Plano, resulting in chronic pain and paralysis in his patients. He operated on the wrong parts of their spines, cut ligaments, misplaced hardware, and made many other egregious medical mistakes. One patient, Kellie Martin, bled to death after a routine procedure because Duntsch severed an artery and refused to abort the surgery. Finally, Baylor Plano revoked his surgical privileges, and Duntsch resigned. The next part is infuriating.
To avoid the costs of fighting and possibly losing a wrongful termination suit, hospital officials reached a deal with Duntsch's lawyers in which Duntsch was allowed to resign in return for Baylor Plano issuing a letter stating that there were no issues with him.
So he was able to obtain a position at Dallas Medical Center, where he managed to maim one patient and kill another within a week, all while appearing to be on drugs and wearing filthy scrubs. A surgeon, Robert Henderson, who did the salvage surgery on the maimed patient investigated Duntsch's credentials, assuming him to be an imposter, but found that he did hold the requisite degrees. So Duntsch found employment at two other Dallas area hospitals where he again made horrible medical errors that left patients severely injured.
Just in case you were starting to think that Duntsch may be an unhinged sociopath, this might tip you over:
There was Duntsch’s childhood friend, Jerry Summers, who woke up from a procedure unable to move his arms and legs.
Finally, after so much needless carnage, a surgeon named Randall Kirby reported Duntsch to the Texas Medical Board, which revoked his license. Randall and Henderson lobbied for criminal charges to be filed on Duntsch, as they feared he would simply move to another state and continue to maim and kill patients. He would be charged with a dozen felonies. His attorneys argued that Duntsch was the victim of poor oversight and training, but a jury saw it differently: as the intentional maiming of patients. On February 20, 2017, he was sentenced to life in prison after the jury deliberated for only four hours.
Even before Duntsch's case went to trial, his life was spiraling out of control. He filed for bankruptcy of over a million dollars, received a DUI, a criminal trespass, and was caught... shoplifting pants.
Duntsch was caught on camera at the Wal-Mart at Northwest Highway and Skillman Street, trying to walk out without paying for $887 worth of sunglasses, watches, ties, briefcases, cologne and other items. According to the police narrative, Duntsch changed into a pair of Wal-Mart pants in a dressing room, put his own pants into a cart, and pushed the whole cart out of the store without paying.
Duntsch will not be eligible for parole until 2049, when he is 74 years old. However, we can see that more than just Duntsch failed his patients- an entire system did by allowing his bloody path to continue for so long. Under Texas law, the most any victim can sue any of these hospitals is $250,000- even if they are permanently paralyzed, or their loved one was killed.
If I ever have to get any surgery, I'm doing extensive research on my surgeon first. I might even hire a P.I.
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