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The Christopher Duntsch Surgery That Was So Bad One Doctor Called It ‘Attempted Murder'
“In my opinion, we had a serial killer in our medical community,” Dr. Randall Kirby says of Christopher Duntsch in "Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story."
In "Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story," a new docuseries streaming now on Peacock, the victims who were maimed by Christopher Duntsch are front and center. While many people are familiar with Duntsch's story from the “Dr. Death” podcast and Peacock scripted series, it's rare to get such an intimate look at the pain Duntsch left in his wake – and for which he is now serving a life sentence in Texas prison.
And it took other physicians to listen to the victims, and to see the bizarre pattern of unfathomable errors Duntsch left behind in those patients' bodies, for officials to finally take action.
One of those doctors was Randall Kirby, a vascular surgeon. He was called in to repair the damage done to Jeffrey Glidewell on Duntsch's operating table. Not one to mince words, Kirby described what he found the new Peacock docuseries “Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story,” saying, “This was attempted murder.”
Duntsch had mistaken part of Glidewell's esophagus for a tumor and removed it. He then left a surgical sponge in Glidewell's neck that had begun to fester when Kirby removed it. In the docuseries, Kirby notes that Glidewell would be the last person Duntsch operated on, but he was one of more than 30 that the surgeon left either maimed, in chronic pain or, in two cases, dead, in a two-year span.
For Dr. Kirby, that speaks volumes. “In my opinion, we had a serial killer in our medical community,” he says in "Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story."
Kirby would soon be joined on his mission to keep Duntsch from harming anyone else by Dr. Robert Henderson, a widely respected orthopedic surgeon specializing in spine health. Henderson was called in to do an emergency re-operation on Mary Efurd, attempting to fix the damage done by Christopher Duntsch. He knew right away that what he saw was highly unusual – and suspicious.
"I've looked at the imaging and I can't hardly even believe what I'm seeing," Henderson says. "He never even operated on the disc itself, which he was supposed to remove in its entirety. It became apparent that this physician, Dr. Duntsch, had no business being involved in her care at all."
Because he knew that there would be legal action taken in such an extreme case, Henderson had the forethought to bring in someone to record his procedure as he went in and removed the hardware from Efurd's body. The video would eventually become a crucial piece of evidence in the criminal case against Duntsch.
"When I would touch the screws and rods, they just moved," Henderson says in the docuseries. "And then the screw at the bottom wasn’t really even in bone. It was an atrocity. Virtually everything was either not done, or done in the wrong place. Anybody with any basic understanding of anatomy wouldn’t have done what he did.”
The results of Efurd's surgery were in fact so horrific that Henderson began to suspect Duntsch was an imposter. He tracked down the program where Duntsch had completed his surgical training and sent them a picture. They told him that the man in the picture was indeed the same man, Christopher Duntsch, or as he would come to be know: Dr. Death.
For Henderson, even after the trial and conviction, questions remain. "I've wondered if he was chemically altered to the point where he became completely incompetent as a surgeon and as a physician. Could he have permanent brain damage from either chemicals or from some organic reason, meaning a tumor? Or is this just a sociologic, pathologic personality that has flipped and become a destroyer instead of healer?"