Fatal Incompetence: Texas Surgeon Wreaked Havoc for Years
Shielded by the system, he continued to botch one surgery after another.
Published: September 6, 2013
Though many of his patients were ending up either paralyzed or dead, and several of his peers were complaining vociferously about his massive — almost unfathomable — incompetence, a Texas neurosurgeon continued to practice for more than 2 years before the Texas Medical Board finally got around to suspending his license — the result of a state system that resolutely protects both doctors and hospitals while shielding the public from complaints and investigations, according to an expose recently published by The Dallas Observer.
Christopher Duntsch, MD, began practicing in Dallas in 2011. His license was finally suspended this past June. Behind him was a trail of shattered lives and 2 deaths. His failures were so mind-boggling, according to 1 surgeon, that they almost seemed deliberate. "At every step of the way, you would have to know the right thing to do so you could do the wrong thing, because he did all the wrong things," Robert Henderson, MD, another Dallas neurosurgeon, told the Observer.
But when Dr. Henderson complained to the board, as many others had and would continue to do, "it had no effect whatsoever," he says, despite his plea that "this guy already killed somebody, made another a quad, made a partial paraplegic out of my patient. He needs to be stopped. Not only shouldn't he be operating, he shouldn't be making any decisions about treatment or pathology."
The story details a number of botched surgeries, including a spinal fusion in which an artery was sliced, ultimately resulting in paralysis; a microlaminectomy that culminated with another sliced artery and the death of a patient; a case in which spinal fusion hardware was sunk into the muscles of a patient's lower back instead of her spine, and a nerve root was amputated; and another in which Dr. Duntsch cut into a patient's throat 2 or 3 inches lower and an inch midline from where the incision should have been made.
After a series of tragic mishaps, Dr. Duntsch was briefly suspended by, and later resigned from, Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano in early 2012, but a short time later he was able to gain privileges at Dallas Medical Center, where he promptly botched at least 2 more surgeries. He was fired in July 2012 by the Dallas facility, which also reported him to the Medical Board.
Still it wasn't until almost a year later, when the physician who discovered the throat incision, Randall Kirby, MD, pleaded with the medical board to "stop this sociopath … or he will continue [to] maim and kill innocent patients" that the board held an emergency meeting and finally suspended his license.
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