After Christopher Duntsch completed medical school and his neurosurgery residency at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, he moved to Dallas, TX, in 2011. But what seemed like the start of a promising career for a brilliant neurosurgeon quickly escalated into one of the worst cases of medical malpractice and criminal activity ever documented.
During his two years as a surgeon in Texas, Duntsch became known as Dr. Death for causing serious and permanent physical damage to 33 of his 37 patients, as well as killing two others. When other surgeons were brought in to fix Duntsch's mistakes, they found Duntsch had regularly caused permanent nerve damage, misplaced medical hardware inside of his patients, removed the wrong bones, and once even sewed a victim up with a sponge still inserted in the patient's back. His operations were catastrophic and damaging to almost all of his patients.
It took six months and dozens of shocking surgery mishaps before anyone reported Duntsch to the medical board, and nearly another year before the board revoked his medical license. Duntsch continued to operate during this time. Finally, in 2017 after a lengthy trial along with years of doctors and victims calling for action, Dr. Death was sentenced to life in prison. Though there are plenty of documented crimes committed by doctors, Duntsch was the first to ever receive such a sentence for medical malpractice.
Duntsch was accepted for a position with the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute in Dallas, TX, and he gained surgical privileges at Baylor Regional Medical Center (also called Baylor-Plano) in Plano, TX, in July 2011. Duntsch's supervisors and mentors from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Memphis highly recommended Duntsch, as he had just finished his residency at the school.
According to Duntsch's colleague, Dr. Randall Kirby, Duntsch once went to Las Vegas instead of caring for one of his patients. As a result, Duntsch was fired. Despite this, he maintained his surgical privileges at Baylor.
While he had surgical privileges at Baylor-Plano in the fall of 2011, Duntsch performed botched surgeries on patients Barry Morguloff, Robert Passmore, and Kenneth Fennell. All three procedures resulted in lawsuits and permanent physical damage to his patients.
During Morguloff's surgery, Duntsch left fragments of bone in the patient's spinal canal. Both Morguloff and Passmore were left to suffer serious physical pain and limited activity.
According to Rolling Stone, Dr. Kirby later reported to the Texas Medical Board that Duntsch was "impaired" and a "sociopath" with "no apparent insight into how bad his technique was."
In December 2011, Duntsch sent an alarming email to Kimberly Morgan, his surgical assistant and ex-girlfriend. This occurred a few weeks before his surgical disaster on Robert Passmore at Baylor-Plano. The prosecution in Duntsch's 2017 trial later used the email against him. In the correspondence, he wrote:
I really am building an empire...
Anyone close to me thinks that I likely am something between god, einstein, and the antichrist...
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.
In February 2012, Duntsch performed a spinal fusion surgery on his childhood friend, Jerry Summers. During the surgery, Duntsch nicked one of the arteries in Summers's back and caused massive bleeding. Summers couldn't move his arms and legs when he woke up and, instead of immediately reoperating to correct his mistake, Duntsch moved on to other patients.
A senior surgeon was brought in to assess the situation and found Duntsch had paralyzed Summers. Duntsch had performed a shoddy surgery and packed coagulants around the sliced artery, permanently affecting Summer's spinal cord.
Summers continues to suffer from incomplete paralysis, meaning he cannot move his body below his neck but can still feel pain.