When medical students are set to become doctors, they often take the Hippocratic Oath and vow to "do no harm" by upholding ethical standards. In the case of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, harm was seemingly all he did.
The neurosurgeon was nicknamed Dr. Death after he was accused of injuring 33 patients during two years of surgeries in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Many were paralyzed or seriously maimed after their operations.
Several died either in the operating room, during recovery, or in the years that followed. It was later discovered that Duntsch had often been under the influence of drugs while he was in surgery. In an email to a girlfriend, he also indicated that he was a "killer."
The incomprehensible story has transfixed the public over the years, as many yearn to understand how Duntsch was able to continue operating for as long as he did.
The Wondery podcast Dr. Death broke down Duntsch's career and his various crimes. A TV dramatization series of the same name is set to debut on Peacock in 2021. It stars Joshua Jackson as Duntsch, and it will also feature Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin.
The defamed doctor is the subject of the March 25 episode of Dr. Phil. Viewers will get to hear from one of his surviving victims, and from several people who lost loved ones at Duntsch's hand.
Where is Christopher Duntsch now?
What did Christopher Duntsch do?
Though many questioned Duntsch's medical knowledge over the years, he did complete his studies to practice medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. He completed a joint MD-PhD program there, and he later did a spine fellowship.
During his residency, other doctors noticed that Duntsch would be under the influence of drugs during operations.
In addition, he only participated in about 100 surgeries during his time in the program. Most neurosurgeons take part in about a thousand surgeries before completing their residencies.
Duntsch first focused on scholarly pursuits, but decided to practice medicine when he was about half a million dollars in debt. His first neurosurgery job was at the Baylor Regional Medical Center (which is now known as Baylor Scott & White) in Texas. His salary there was $600,000 per year.
While there, Duntsch began to maim or irreparably injure his patients.
The hospital wanted Duntsch to only take on minor surgeries following a series of serious mishaps. During a routine back procedure, Duntsch severed one of patient Kelli Martin's major arteries. He continued to operate, despite the fact that Martin was losing a massive amount of blood. She ended up bleeding to death, and the hospital subsequently evaluated Duntsch.
Before he could be terminated, Duntsch resigned from Baylor Regional. Because he voluntarily left, Duntsch was not reported, and he was able to get another job in neurosurgery at the Dallas Medical Center.
Within a week of starting at his new job, Duntsch lost another patient, Floella Brown, from a stroke. He also paralyzed Mary Efurd during his first week. His privileges were soon restricted, and he left the role to work at an outpatient clinic in Frisco, Texas.
While there, he temporarily paralyzed Philip Mayfield. The patient has permanent damage in one of his legs from the operation as well.
Duntsch later took a job at the University General Hospital in Dallas, and he injured Jeff Glidewell during a cervical fusion surgery. It ended up being his final operation, as his license was suspended in June of 2013.
During those two years of surgeries in Texas, a whopping 33 out of 38 patients were injured.
In July of 2015, Duntsch was arrested on counts of aggravated assault. He went on trial for intentionally paralyzing and maiming Efurd. Prosecutors felt like it was the strongest case against Duntsch, as a conviction carried a potential life sentence. Duntsch was found guilty in February of 2017, and he did receive a life sentence.
He was the first doctor to be convicted for aggravated assault resulting from actions taken in the operating room.
Where is Christopher Duntsch now?
Christopher Duntsch is currently imprisoned at the O.B. Ellis Unit prison in Huntsville, Texas. He will be up for parole in 2045, when he is 74 years old.
Though he appealed his conviction in 2018, it was denied.
Dr. Phil airs on weekdays.