Mary Efurd awoke from her operation screaming. The pain was beyond agonising, and she realised with horror that she could no longer move her legs.
When Mary awoke from a back operation, she screamed in pain and found her legs weren’t working
Her surgeon had claimed that the operation would ease the back pain she had complained of, but by the time he had changed out of his scrubs and washed his hands, Mary was feeling worse than ever.
Little did she know that she had fallen into the clutches of a crazed, white-coated killer known as Doctor Death, and was lucky to escape with her life.
Over the course of an 18-month surgery spree, 32 patients – including Mary – say they were maimed by sociopath surgeon Dr Christopher Duntsch.
The 47-year-old, based in Texas, used to boast in his TV adverts that he was “the best neurosurgeon in all of Dallas.”
But many patients hobbled out of his clinic with severe spinal injuries, damaged nerves or severed vocal cords.
Dr Christopher Duntsch had a habit of botching his surgeries and maiming his patients
Two victims paid for his brutal negligence with their lives, while two more have been left paralysed forever.
And now a new podcast, called Dr Death, explores his crimes in detail – featuring testimony from the people whose lives he ruined as well as the lawyers who helped put him behind bars.
Spines slashed and vocal cords hacked
Mary has been confined to a wheelchair ever since she went under Duntsch’s knife, and today the 80-year-old still can’t stand up for more than ten minutes at a time.
During her operation, Dr Death drilled into her muscle instead of her bone, recklessly sliced into one nerve at the root and deliberately twisted a metal screw into another – causing searing pains which lasted for days.
Every other person in the operating room was horrified, telling Duntsch that he was botching the surgery, but the doctor didn’t seem to care.
Mary was left wheelchair bound after he treated her for back pain
And when the horror operation was over, it was so blatant that Mary would need emergency corrective surgery that a technician left another set of tools in the theatre for the doctor who was inevitably called to clean up the mess.
Duntsch, who has been described as a “butcher” and a “sociopath”, is currently serving a life sentence for the deliberate maiming.
But after he was arrested, many more victims came forward to reveal the horror injuries they have been left with.
Among them is Jackie Troy, who woke up from her operation unable to talk when the doctor left all but one of her vocal cords paralysed.
Speaking in the low rasp – still all she can muster today – she tells TV news channel Inside Edition: “They didn’t know if I would survive.”
Another, Lee Passmore, had part of his spine needlessly removed during an operation for back pain, leaving him with crippling nerve spasms which make it hard to walk.
“It feels like there’s an ice pick planted squarely in my back,” he says. “I shouldn’t be this way.”
Duntsch has faced claims of negligence from over 30 patients he has operated on
A self-described killer who thought he was God
Passmore’s attorney has claimed that Duntsch has long had a serious drug problem, something which may have fuelled his negligence.
Allegedly, Dr Death once spent a whole night doing cocaine at a party, before changing into his scrubs as soon as the sun came up and then going straight to work.
While the drug claims are disputed, it is well documented that Duntsch had a warped ego which could have driven him to harm the people he was meant to protect.
In a disturbing email to his office assistant, he once described himself as “something between God, Einstein, and the Antichrist.”
And in another, he wrote: “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.”
These are among the grim details which will be explored in the Dr Death podcast, a six-part investigation of Duntsch’s crimes hosted by journalist Laura Beil.
Dr Death is made by Wondery, the creators of LA true-crime podcast Dirty John. The hit series tells the story of John Meehan – a malicious and predatory con-artist who was killed by his victim’s daughter in 2016.
Producers will be hoping that the warped tale of Dr Death will be just as gripping, following on from the success of other cult crime podcasts like Serial.
Waking up paralysed and in agonising pain
Duntsch went to medical school at the University of Tennesse, before moving to Dallas to work at Baylor Medical centre.
The surgeon thought of himself as a a cross between God and the Antichrist
Many victims have come forward to claim Duntsch botched their surgeries while he was working here, and it was here where one patient, Kellie Martin died of massive blood loss after an operation.
Soon after, he left to join Dallas Medical Centre. He lasted less than a week before another patient – Floella Brown – died on his watch when he slit a vertebral artery, which triggered a stroke.
The doctors he worked with were aghast when they observed him, and on one occasion, another surgeon had to physically step between him and a patient.
Duntsch had his hands in a pool of blood above the patient’s groin, and claimed he was working by feel, not by sight, in removing a ligament which stabilises the spine.
His licence was revoked by the Texas Medical Board in 2013, which found that he had violated standards of care for his patients.
Then, in 2015, he was indicted for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but it wasn’t until 2017 when he was convicted of a first-degree felony for maiming Mary Efurd.
Disabled victim Mary said after the trial: “When they finally got his licence suspended I cried for two days. It was just relief that didn’t stop.”
Duntsch was found to have intentionally injured his patients, and was sentenced to life in prison. It was a landmark case, and one of the first ever where a doctor has been jailed for malpractice.
But while Duntsch is adapting to his new life behind bars, many of his victims are still picking up the pieces of their own.
All four of the hospitals where Duntsch has ever worked have been hit by civil lawsuits, and Duntsch himself has also been sued by a number of patients.
In one shocking case, Jeff Cheney said he woke up from an op to learn that Duntsch had removed part of his spinal cord by mistake, paralysing the entire right side of his body.
He still walks with a heavy limp today, and says he was “horrified” and “speechless” when he discovered his injuries.
The sponge left inside a victim’s neck
Another patient, Jeff Glidewell, almost lost his voice forever after Duntsch mistook his esophagus for a tumour and sliced into it.
Dr Duntsch even described himself as a ‘cold-blooded killer’
Duntsch then stuck a sponge in the hole he had made and stitched his patient back up – leaving the foreign body inside him and forcing his patient to undergo emergency surgery.
Others had holes senselessly punched into their backbones while they were in theatre to have their back pain relieved, while some patients were subjected to having nerves amputated by the sadistic doctor.
He also operated on his childhood friend, Jerry Summers, who left theatre as a quadriplegic. Allegedly, Duntsch had been using cocaine on the night before the surgery.
In the most extreme cases, Duntsch left his patients with injuries they couldn’t overcome.
Kellie Martin died after he botched a “routine” spinal surgery, and Floella Brown lost an excess blood after a fusion operation, dying the following day.
For podcast journalist Laura, one of the most terrifying aspects of the Dr Death case was that nobody ever stopped him.
“The sad fact is as patients we really can’t find out a lot about our doctors, so they just didn’t know,” she said. “And the doctors who referred him didn’t know.”
And for the patients whose lives have been left in tatters by Duntsch’s scalpel, the only consolation is that he has finally been locked away where he can do no harm.