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Christopher Duntsch and Jerry Summers weren't only best friends – they took care of one another. Friends since they played football together in high school, Summers helped Duntsch stay organized while he worked in the lab during his residency. Later, when Duntsch moved to Dallas to begin his career as a neurosurgeon he took Summers with him. Summers believed in his best friend — believed that, as Duntsch boasted, he was the best surgeon in Dallas and that he was going to reinvent the treatment of chronic spinal pain.
So, when Summers decided that he would go under the knife to treat the chronic neck pain he experienced as the result of a car accident, it was only natural that he would pick Dr. Christopher Duntsch to perform the surgery in 2012.
This was before Duntsch would earn the nickname “Dr. Death,” the morbid shorthand for his disastrous surgical career in Texas, which also serves as the title of a new Peacock series available now and starring Joshua Jackson, Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin. (And if you want to dive even deeper into the story, you can also watch the new docuseries "Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story" on Peacock, which features interviews with numerous people intimately involved in the case.)
Summers became one of Duntsch’s many victims. His operation, which should have been routine, would render him a quadriplegic.
In 2018, Mother Jones detailed the ways in which Summers' surgery went horribly awry.
"According to doctors who later reviewed the case, Duntsch had damaged Summers’ vertebral artery, causing it to bleed almost uncontrollably," Mother Jones reported. "To stop the bleeding, Duntsch packed the space with so much anticoagulant that it squeezed Summers’ spine."
Summers wasn't the first or the last patient that would be maimed by Christopher Duntsch. Of the 38 patients that he operated on during his roughly two-year long stint in Texas, he injured 33. Two of those patients died from surgical complications.
Summers had always admired Duntsch's ability to party – they were regularly in one another's presence when, according to Summers, they both consumed narcotics – but as he lay in the ICU, incapacitated, he pleaded with hospital staff to help him, telling them he'd been up all night before the operation doing cocaine with Duntsch.
ProPublica later reported that "In his 2017 deposition, Summers acknowledged he made up the pre-surgery cocaine binge because he felt Duntsch had abandoned him, as both his surgeon and his friend.’
“I was just really mad and hollering and wanting him to be there,” Summers said. “And so I made a statement that was not something that was necessarily true. … The statement was only made so that he might hear it and go, ‘Let me get my ass down there.’”
Summers died in February 2021, nearly a decade after his botched surgery. He was 50 years old.
"He had a personality that was bigger than life itself," his obituary reads. "His signature grin was infectious and would brighten the day of anyone who gazed upon it."
Over time, Summers apparently came to terms with his injury and his former friend’s role in it. Speaking with Memphis ABC affiliate Local 24 in February, Summers’ attorney Jeffrey Rosenblum said he thought, legally speaking, Duntsch, already serving a life sentence for injuries he inflicted as a surgeon, could be criminally charged in Summers’ death. However, Rosenblum said he didn't think that would happen, as it wasn't what Jerry would have wanted because he'd forgiven Duntsch years before.
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