Home E-Weekly February 28, 2017

Life in Prison for 'Dangerous' Spine Surgeon

Published: February 27, 2017

INEPT OR SINISTER? The Texas Medical Board suspended Dr. Duntsch's medical license in 2013 after a string of surgical mishaps. He was arrested on aggravated-assault charges in 2015.

It took a jury in Dallas, Texas, just over an hour to sentence a 45-year-old neurosurgeon nicknamed "Dr. Death" to life behind bars.

Last week Christopher Duntsch, MD, was convicted of injuring an elderly individual — a first-degree felony — for deliberately maiming one of his patients, Mary Efurd. Ms. Efurd, who was 74 years old when Dr. Duntsch botched her 2012 spinal fusion surgery, is now partially paralyzed and wracked with constant pain. Prosecutors said Dr. Duntsch caused her injuries by placing implants in muscle instead of on bone, drilling a screw into her spinal cavity and severing a nerve root. She is now confined to a wheelchair.

Throughout the 13-day trial, jurors learned that Ms. Efurd's injuries were merely the tip of a much larger iceberg. Between 2012 and 2013, 2 patients died as a result of injuries Dr. Duntsch inflicted during surgery, and prosecutors said his abuse and neglect derailed the lives of more than 30 patients in all. During the trial, a dozen patients who had trusted Dr. Duntsch to provide them with relief from back problems testified he instead left them disfigured and struggling to cope with debilitating pain.

The defense claimed Dr. Duntsch was not sadistic, just "not a skilled surgeon." Defense attorney Robbie McClung said his client, who practiced at various hospitals in Dallas and Collin counties, was "at the level of a first-year resident." Prosecutors argued that Dr. Duntsch had 17 years of training and research behind him, meaning he knew exactly what he was doing. They also noted his history of erratic behavior, citing a bizarre email sent to an employee, which read: "what I am being is what I am, one of kind, a [expletive] stone cold killer."

Dr. Duntsch's troubles date back to his time practicing in Tennessee, where, prosecutors said, he incurred mounting debt from having to defend lawsuits filed by multiple patients. Prosecutors said he fled Tennessee for a new start in Dallas, but the victims of his botched surgeries continued to pile up.

In 2013, after a string of mind-boggling surgical mishaps, the Texas Medical Board stripped Dr. Duntsch of his medical license. In complaints to the board, 2 surgeons who had worked with Dr. Duntsch described him as "the most careless, clueless and dangerous spine surgeon either of us has ever seen." He was arrested in 2015 on 5 charges of aggravated assault.

Bill Donahue

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