Christopher Duntsch, also known as Dr. Death, killed two patients and caused paralysis or serious injury to 31 others. Between 2011 and 2013, many of his patients woke up from their surgeries with extreme pain, numbness, and paralysis.
A few weren't as lucky because they perished after these surgical procedures.
Although Christopher Duntsch had the potential to become a great surgeon, he turned into one of the most famous killers in history. He graduated from a respected medical school, ran research labs, and successfully did a residency program.
However, the doctor also abused drugs and had an elevated level of confidence that left his patients paying the price with their lives or their health once he turned into the killer surgeon, Dr. Death.
Duntsch Was A Promising Doctor Before He Turned Into Dr. Death
Christopher Duntsch was born and raised in Montana along with his three siblings. He grew up in an affluent suburb in Memphis, Tennessee.
His father was a physical therapist, and his mother was a teacher.
His dream was to become a professional football player. However, according to his teammates, he was too bad at it to ever succeed as a football player.
Duntsch got his undergraduate degree from the University of Memphis, and he went on to earn his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee Health Center.
Duntsch's performance in school was so good that he was allowed to become part of the elite Alpha Omega Medical Honor Society.
Eventually, he did his surgical residency at the University of Tennessee in Memphis. At the time, he was also operating two successful labs.
He was also able to raise millions of dollars in grant money.
When Did The Surgeon Turn Into Dr. Death?
It is believed that the doctor's life started to change for the worse from around 2006 to 2007. A friend's ex-girlfriend remembers him taking prescription painkillers during his birthday.
He also had a pile of cocaine in his dresser at his home office. Duntsch also regularly took part in parties involving the use of cocaine and LSD before putting on his lab coat to go to work.
According to many of his friends, he would regularly go to perform surgeries after a night of doing drugs. One of them said they would never allow him to operate on them.
He was once sent to an impaired physician program when he refused to take a drug test. Although he did not agree to take the program, he was still allowed to complete his residency.
While he was still in Memphis, he got into a relationship with Wendy Renee Young, and together, they had two sons. When the two met, Duntsch was heavily in debt, which is what motivated him to become a surgeon.
He actually persuaded Young to join him as he was moving to Dallas.
For a while, his focus was on his research. However, he was recruited to become part of the Minimally Invasive Spine Institute in North Dallas back in 2011. His salary was going to be $600,000 a year.
As soon as he got to Dallas, he got surgical rights at Plano's Baylor Regional Medical Center. However, he did not make an excellent impression on other surgeons while there because he often boasted about his skills even though he was relatively new in that field of medicine.
Dr. Death Had A Big Ego And Questionable Surgical Skills
In a period of two years, Duntsch conducted surgeries on 38 patients in Dallas. Two of the patients died, and 31 were left with severe injuries or paralysis.
He relied on his high confidence to make his patients trust him. Apparently, he would often talk down to colleagues during operations and declare himself the best "guy in the whole state" in his field.
His colleagues initially thought he was really good at what he does. However, they soon realized he was just good at boasting.
Randall Kirby, one of the surgeons who got to see him operate, described him as someone who "could not wield a scalpel."
Not long after, he was fired from Minimally Invasive Spine Institute after he performed surgery and took off, leaving his patient with no one to look after them. However, even though he lost this job, he still had his job as a surgeon at Baylor Plano.
One of Dr. Death's unfortunate victims was Jerry Summers, who was his friend's boyfriend. The man ended up with quadriplegia and could not move from the neck down after the surgeon operated on him.
Eventually, Jerry Summers ended up dying from complications related to the operation in February of 2021. This operation resulted in a temporary suspension of his surgical rights.
Dr. Death's List Of Victims Kept Growing
After the suspension of his surgical rights came to an end, his next patient was Kellie Martin, a 55-year-old woman.
All the woman needed was a surgery that would alleviate her chronic back pain which started after she fell in the kitchen. Unfortunately, she bled out and died in ICU and became Dr. Death's first victim.
Apparently, Martin got up from anesthesia and started screaming with pain, and the ICU team had to re-anesthetize her. Dr. Death did not attend her and instead remained in the ICU waiting room even after she had a cardiac arrest.
While still working as a surgeon at Baylor Plano, he also operated on Lee Passmore, a medical examiner from Collin County. Passmore had chronic pain and limited mobility.
During the operation, Duntsch cut a ligament that was not supposed to be touched. The vascular surgeon helping with the operation had to physically restrain him at one point after seeing how clueless he was.
In fact, the vascular surgeon told him that he was dangerous right to his face. At that point, people began to question his sanity.
At one point, a patient walked out on him after discovering that he was inebriated.
After these "mishaps," he left his job at Baylor Plano in 2012 before they had a chance to fire him. The hospital officials had found that he did not meet their standards of care and were about to permanently revoke his surgical privileges.
His resignation was actually a deal between the medical institution and his lawyer to help them avoid a wrongful termination suit. The deal also included a stipulation that the facility would say that there was nothing wrong with him as a surgeon.
If they fired him, they would have to report him to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), which flags physicians who have the sort of issues he had.
Dr. Death's Reign Of Terror Continued
After Baylor Plano, the surgeon worked for the Dallas Medical Center, where his reign of terror and death continued. The officials granted him temporary surgical privileges while they waited for his records from Baylor Plano.
However, even before they could get these records, concerns about him arose because nurses often wondered if he was on drugs while on duty. After a week, his privileges were terminated when one patient died, and another was maimed at his hands.
In fact, at the Dallas Medical Center, his very first surgery turned fatal. This time, the victim was Floella Brown, and she had a massive stroke because Dr. Death had sliced her vertebral artery while operating on her.
Even at the request of his colleagues, he refused to abort the surgery when the bleeding proved to be excessive.
However, one day after the incident, another patient was on his operation table. This time, it was 53-year-old Mary Efurd, who needed two vertebrae fused.
When she woke up with severe pain and without her ability to stand, she was scanned, and it was discovered that her nerve root had been amputated. Additionally, they found several screw holes in the wrong place, including a screw at another nerve root.
An experienced spine surgeon, Robert Henderson, had to perform salvage surgery on Efurd, saving her from being bedridden. Dr. Henderson described Dr. Death's work as an assault.
Several months of horrible surgeries resulted in the surgeon losing his surgical rights in June 2013. Soon after, the surgeon of death had lost his job for the damage he had caused.
However, since he had temporary surgical rights, the hospital could not report him to the NPDB. Because of this, he soon found another job as a surgeon at South Hampton Community Hospital in Dallas.
Once again, he did not spend long at the medical institution, and he had to move on. His last surgery was performed while he was at Methodist Hospital in Dallas, where he was accused of trying to decapitate a patient called Jeff Glidewell.
He left the patient with just one vocal cord, permanent damage to the esophagus, and partial paralysis on his left side. The patient had to undergo over 50 procedures to rectify the damage.
Two Colleagues Helped Put Dr. Death's Dangerous Reign To An End
Eventually, two doctors complained about him to the Texas Medical Board. One of the doctors was Randall Kirby (pictured), who labeled him a "sociopath." The other doctor was Robert Henderson.
The pair believed that he could move to another hospital and get permission to continue doing surgeries, causing even more damage unless he was not stopped.
A couple of years later, in 2015, Dr. Death was indicted by the grand jury on five counts of aggravated assault and one count of harming an elderly person.
Former patients, including Mary Efurd, Kenneth Fennel, and Lee Passmore, also filed suits against him. They also accused the hospital of allowing Dr. Death to operate on them even after knowing how dangerous he was.
In February 2017, Dr. Death was sentenced to life in prison for the crimes he had committed. The jury found him guilty after only four hours of deliberation.
To this day, he remains in prison for all the crimes he has committed. He will be eligible for parole in 2045. At the time, he will be 74 years old.
Dr. Death Today
Dr. Death is remembered as someone who destroyed the lives of all the patients he operated on. The strangest thing is that he saw himself as a hero in his own story. That is why he often tried to make people know that he was a brilliant doctor and surgeon.
He also made history by being the first physician to face criminal charges for things he did during his medical work.
Although his victims might see him as a nightmare and a monster, he thought himself the victim.
Dr. Death's story has inspired a lot of stories in popular culture. For instance, the Wondery podcast was made based on his life. It was released in 2018, and it used the real names of his victims.
The podcast took the world by storm.
Eventually, a series titled Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story, starring Joshua Jackson, was released. The series explored the 38 surgeries he performed, which is something the podcast didn't do. However, the series did not use the real names of the victims.
To this day, it is not so clear if Dr. Death was just a really bad surgeon or a person who intentionally sought to harm his patients. Some of his colleagues think he was a narcissist who had way too much power.