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In December of 2011, nurse practitioner Kimberly Morgan got a bizarre message from her boss and lover.
“Anyone close to me thinks that I am something between God, Einstein and the anti-Christ because how can I do anything I want and cross every discipline boundary like it’s a playground and never lose,” Dr. Christopher Duntsch wrote in the four-page, single-spaced email to Morgan, according to the podcast “Dr. Death.” “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.”
It was a rambling note that touched on Duntsch’s frustrations with his business and personal relationships. But it ominously preceded Duntsch’s short, and deadly career as a neurosurgeon in Texas, where prosecutors say he botched 33 of his 38 surgeries in less than two years.
Duntsch’s meteoric downfall is also the focus of the new Peacock series “Dr. Death,” which was inspired by the podcast and dramatizes Duntsch’s story. The series stars Joshua Jackson, who plays the deadly doctor, Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin. It's available to stream now. (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.)
The email Morgan received would later be introduced in Duntsch’s criminal trial, in which he was convicted of injuring an elderly person and sentenced to life in prison for just one of the damaging mistakes he made on the surgical table.
But just who was Morgan and what did she see while having a front-row seat to Duntsch’s disastrous surgical practice?
Morgan—who is portrayed in the Peacock series by Grace Gummer—first met Duntsch in August of 2011, while looking for a new job. The nurse practitioner had been on vacation when she got a call from a doctor she knew about a new Dallas neurosurgeon setting up a practice in the city, according to the podcast.
She was so eager to interview with Duntsch that she went straight to his office after getting off her plane and was immediately impressed by what she found.
“She said she thought that he was going to make millions,” her friend B.J. Ellison, who also served as the office manager at the practice, told podcast host Laura Beil. “He was smart. He was brilliant. He was a genius. He would be heading up the neurosurgical department at Baylor and she just found the one.”
According to Ellison, Morgan was drawn to more than Duntsch’s impressive resume and a romance soon blossomed.
The neurosurgeon was already living with his pregnant girlfriend, Wendy Young; however, he lied and told Morgan that Young was just his receptionist who had joined him from Tennessee and that her husband would be moving to Texas soon.
About a month after meeting, Morgan and Duntsch were already sleeping together, according to the podcast.
The romance played out mostly in Duntsch’s office at Baylor Plano, where he often did research after hours and drank vodka from a handle of Stoli he kept under his desk, according to D Magazine.
Morgan would later say in a deposition that she considered the rendezvous dates, according to the podcast.
“There was no other office workers there, so that’s considered a date because it’s the two of us,” she said.
The secretive romance was also apparent to Duntsch’s patients.
“It was clear to anyone who’s not a complete idiot that they were a thing,” former patient Lee Passmore told D Magazine.
When Duntsch wasn’t at work, he could often be found out at the clubs with his childhood friend Jerry Summers—who Duntsch would later leave a quadriplegic after botching a surgery to relieve Summers’ neck pain from car accident.
“If he wasn’t doing research, he was out with Jerry Summers, partying,” Morgan said in the deposition of the fast-paced lifestyle.
Duntsch was also prone to writing Morgan long, rambling emails like the one she received at 4 a.m. on Dec. 9, 2011 where the neurosurgeon claimed to be a combination of “God, Einstein and the anti-Christ.”
In that same email, he referenced a week where “everything unraveled” in the pair’s relationship and believed that it might have been due to a “vodka bottle” and “neurostimulants,” D Magazine reported in 2017.
Ellison said the couple’s relationship didn’t dissolve until the spring of 2012 after Duntsch had begun to leave a trail of suffering patients.
Summers’ surgery damaged his vertebral artery, caused significant bleeding and left little bone connecting Summers’ head to his body, paralyzing him from the neck down.
Shortly after the disastrous surgery, Summers began screaming in his hospital rooms and told multiple nurses that Duntsch had done eight balls of cocaine with him the night before the surgery, ProPublica reports.
He would later recant the story in a 2017 deposition, saying he had only made up the claim because he felt like his friend had abandoned him after the surgery and wanted Duntsch to take notice of him in the hospital, but the claim was enough for Baylor Medical Center-Plano to take notice.
They ordered both Duntsch and Morgan to take a drug test, according to the podcast. Morgan took the test immediately and passed, but Duntsch stalled for four days, according to the “Dr. Death” podcast. The result came back clean.
He eventually was cleared after passing a psychological evaluation and his surgical privileges were reinstated, but he was instructed by the hospital to only conduct minor outpatient procedures.
His first patient back, Kellie Martin, had gone in for a simple procedure but died after Duntsch cut a blood vessel and tore a hole in her vein, causing her to bleed to death, according to Oxygen’s “License To Kill.”
Ellison said Morgan called her that day visibly upset.
“Kim called me from the OR and she was not Kim,” she recalled in the “Dr. Death” podcast.
Morgan quit shortly after Martin’s death, severing both the professional and personal relationship between the pair.
“He was crazy, and she just didn’t want to be associated with him anymore,” Ellison said.
Morgan took out a temporary protective order against Duntsch in April of 2012 after he allegedly showed up at her home at 2 a.m. and started banging on her window.
She later testified about her relationship with Duntsch during his 2017 trial, Skyping in to provide the testimony from a military base, D Magazine reports. Morgan served as a key witness for the prosecution and told jurors of the former neurosurgeon’s vastly differing personalities. While he could be kind and charismatic with patients, Morgan said he was also angry and confrontational behind closed doors, ProPublica reports.
With the help of her testimony, Duntsch was convicted of injuring elderly patient Mary Efurd in a matter of hours. He was sentenced to life behind bars.
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