Graveyard Shift Christopher Duntsch, Known As Dr. Death, Maimed His Patients Through Routine Back Surgery  

Jodi Smith
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Christopher Duntsch - AKA Dr. Death - spent 18 months as a practicing surgeon at multiple Texas hospitals until he had his license revoked in 2013. Over this period, Duntsch performed back surgeries that left his patients in a worse condition, paralyzed, or deceased. Some hospitals may be reluctant to report doctors who have allegedly caused bodily harm to patients. Lawsuits can cost hospitals millions of dollars and lost credibility, making it easier just to fire the offending doctor.

Duntsch destroyed the lives of numerous patients who were seeking relief from back problems. Ultimately, Duntsch's horrific mistakes made during surgery and alleged drug use caught up with him.

Two Of Duntsch's Patients Peri... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Christopher Duntsch, Known As Dr. Death, Maimed His Patients Through Routine Back Surgery
Photo:  Michael Dorausch/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
Two Of Duntsch's Patients Perished After He Performed Routine Surgeries

In March 2012, Duntsch performed a laminectomy on Kellie Martin to reduce her back pain after a fall at home. The procedure was routine and involved removing bone tissue in the spine to alleviate pressure on afflicted nerves. During the 45-minute surgery, Duntsch cut through one of Martin's arteries. She passed from blood loss in the ICU.

A couple of months later, Floella Brown came to Duntsch for a cervical fusion to alleviate her neck and shoulder pain. During Brown's surgery, Duntsch pierced her vertebral artery. Brown lost so much blood that the operating room team had to mop the floor with towels, all while Duntsch complained he couldn't see her spine to operate.

Likely due to Duntsch's attempt to staunch the blood loss, Brown suffered a buildup of pressure in her brain. Brown had a massive stroke overnight that left her in a vegetative state, and her family chose to remove life support days later. A neurosurgeon reviewing the case for the court found an errant screw had not only opened Brown's artery but blocked it, and that Duntsch had misdiagnosed Brown, operating on the wrong area entirely.

One Patient Became Paralyzed And Developed Several Disorders

Philip Mayfield experienced back pain and chronic conditions related to his longtime career driving tractor-trailers. On April 9, 2013, Mayfield underwent surgery performed by Duntsch to remove a troublesome disk from his spine. The intended 45-minute procedure stretched over an hour before Duntsch finally emerged and told Mayfield's wife the surgery was a success.

In actuality, Duntsch had severely deformed Mayfield's spinal column and left him immobilized from mid-chest down to his toes. After five days in the ICU and hours of agonizing rehab, Mayfield required a cane to walk and was unable to ride in vehicles for long periods.

Mayfield also developed syringomyelia in 2014 - fluid-filled cysts that emerged within his spinal cord, which compressed nerves to cause more pain and damage to the sensitive area.

In addition, he began to experience random fainting episodes and complex regional pain syndrome, a rare nervous system disorder causing skin blisters that then slough off, as well as chronic pain and skin sensitivity.

Operating Room Staff Allegedly... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Christopher Duntsch, Known As Dr. Death, Maimed His Patients Through Routine Back Surgery
Photo:  Jmarchn/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
Operating Room Staff Allegedly Had To Physically Restrain Duntsch After He Botched A Surgery

Duntsch's final patient, Jeffrey Glidewell, entered the operating room in 2013 to undergo minimally invasive surgery to fix his long-term neck pain. Duntsch allegedly arrived at the hospital three hours after the surgery was planned to start and began the procedure.

Duntsch made the incision in the wrong place before nicking a vertebral artery, confusing the muscles in Glidewell's neck for a tumor, cutting into his vocal cords, and removing a piece of his esophagus. Duntsch crammed a surgical sponge into the wound, then sewed it up. According to Duntsch's colleague Dr. Randall Kirby, Glidewell's procedure was so botched that "Duntsch was forcibly restrained from continuing the surgery by the [operating room] team."

A few days later, Glidewell developed a serious infection due to the sponge left in his throat. Other doctors had to perform surgery to save his life.

Acquaintances Mentioned Duntsch's Use Of Drugs And Alcohol

In 2014, the ex-girlfriend of Duntsch's close friend testified under oath that Duntsch had attended a party and consumed alcohol and drugs, including coke, unidentified pills, and LSD. Supposedly Duntsch appeared unfazed when he left the next morning for his residency, despite still being under the influence.

Rand Page, a former business partner, claimed Duntsch kept coke in his desk drawer at home. He also alleged that the neurosurgeon had a habit of beginning his day with an alcoholic beverage when they worked together.