true crime

Christoper Duntsch injured 33 of his patients. Now, the story of 'Dr Death' is being made into a TV show.

Christopher Duntsch is the first doctor in the United States to be criminally convicted for his practice in medicine.

He has been sentenced to life in jail, after crimes including screwing holes into a person’s spinal column, severing a nerve root, and losing hardware inside a patient’s body.

His malicious misconduct as a neurosurgeon is the subject of popular podcast, Dr Death – produced by Wondery, the same creators of Dirty John.

Researched, reported and hosted by journalist Laura Beil, the podcast explores the true story of Christopher Duntsch, a Texas surgeon who operated on 38 patients in Dallas over a two year period.

Two of those patients died, and a further 33 were injured.

The podcast recently announced that it will be made into a limited drama television series by UCP, with Jamie Dornan playing Duntsch. It is expected to be produced in a similar way to podcast adaptation Homecoming and Netflix’s Dirty John.

Watch the trailer for Wondery’s Dr Death podcast below. Post continues after video.

Video by Wondery

The central mystery in the case of Dr Death isn’t so much what happened, but how did it happen?

Christopher Duntsch graduated from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where he received both a M.D. and Ph.D before moving to Dallas in 2011.

Duntsch would attract patients by telling them he was “the best” in the field, as reported by Dallas magazine. He would tell others, “Everybody’s doing it wrong. I’m the only clean minimally invasive guy in the whole state”.

Mary Efurd trusted his confidence and in 2012, the neurosurgeon performed spinal surgery on the 74-year-old woman.

ADVERTISEMENT

When she awoke, crippling pain shot through her body. She could not stand.

Two days later, Dr Robert Henderson performed surgery to hopefully remedy Efurd’s pain. What Dr Henderson discovered horrified him.

From screw holes in random places to a spinal fusion hardware which was left in her soft tissue, the mistakes made were shocking to Dr Henderson.

In the previous November, 36-year-old Lee Passmore also had surgery done by Duntsch. This surgery was completed alongside Dr Mark Hoyle, who quickly realised Duntsch’s “dangerous” ways.

Passmore woke up unable to feel his feet; unable to walk. Hoyle cancelled all future planned operations with Duntsch – the first of multiple surgeons to do so.

In 2017, Duntsch was convicted of deliberately maiming an elderly patient, Mary Efurd. Although arrested for five aggravated assault charges, the trial only concentrated on the injury to Efurd.

The prosecutors successfully argued that after 17 years of research and training, Duntsch intentionally botched these surgeries. They were not accidents.

The precedent-setting case saw Duntsch sentenced to life in prison. But despite his jail time, his exact motive for his malicious malpractice remains unclear.

One long, bizarre email sent to an employee in 2011, which was published by the Dallas Morning News and used during the trial by the prosecutors, depicts a delusional man.

“You, my child, are the only one between me and the other side. 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,” said in a section of the email.

Another excerpt read: “What I am being is what I am, one of kind, a mother f****** stone cold killer that can buy or own or steal or ruin or build whatever he wants.”

While his reasons may never be known, his alleged victims are pleased with his jail time.

Philip Mayfield, 45, who was paralysed after a surgery done by Duntsch, said: “I am very well pleased that he will remain in jail and that justice will eventually be served for the crimes he committed.”

For more on this topic: 

00:00 / ???