(CBS4) – When he was arrested in 2015, the man dubbed “Dr. Death” called Centennial home. Dr. Christopher Duntsch split his time between Colorado and Texas after he lost his medical license in 2013.
Now he’s serving a life sentence after being criminally charged for injuring patients during surgery. Duntsch, once a neurosurgeon, is the focal point of the new streaming Peacock docuseries “Dr. Death.” D Magazine gave him the nickname in its reporting in 2016.
At the time of his arrest, state regulators said he was so derelict during operations his actions caused the deaths of two patients and left two others with disabling injuries, many of which only grow worse as patients age.
Dallas prosecutors charged Duntsch with five counts of aggravated assault with deadly weapons (his hands and surgical tools) and one count of causing seriously bodily injury to an elderly person. He went to trial on that count of hurting an elderly person.
Mary Erfund was that patient. Duntsch performed spinal surgery on her in 2012, she’s been in a wheelchair since then after he severed a nerve root and left screw holes in her spine.
Erfund said the guilty verdict had been a long time coming. “Relief,” is how she described her emotions at the time. “Finally justice has been done after four and a half years. And I hope I’m speaking for all the other families and their loved ones also. I think we feel real good about it. We feel like justice was done.”
She also said she was grateful Duntsch was no longer practicing medicine. “You know, when they finally got his license suspended I cried for two days. It was just relief that didn’t stop.”
It was frustration over getting Duntsch’s license suspended that finally led to the criminal charges.
Duntsch moved to Dallas after graduating from University of Tennessee where he had worked on a project to use stem cells to cure back injuries and pain. He had parted ways with the company he found — Discgenetics — and started practicing as a neurosurgeon for minimally invasive surgeries.
Between 2011 and 2013 he worked at three hospitals in Dallas, operating on 37 people, killing two, injuring 31 others. Despite colleagues raising concerns about his competence and arrogance, he was allowed to resign from the hospitals so he was never reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank.
Duntsch had a history of moving to try and reach his goals. That included a stint as a walk-on player for Colorado State University’s Rams football team in 1991, during his sophomore year. That was after spending his freshman year playing for Millsaps College in Mississippi but he wanted to play for a Division I team. He left CSU after a year and went to Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis) for his medical degree.
In a ProPublica article, a former CSU teammate said Duntsch struggled with basic drills but begged to run them over and over. “I gathered very quickly that everything that he had accomplished in sports had come with sweat equity,” Chris Dozois told the publication.
While he was not reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank, complaints about him were made to the Texas Medical Board as early as 2012 but his privileges were not revoked until June 2013.
That’s when he moved to Colorado to live with his parents. On Jan. 10, 2014, Denver police arrested him for driving under the influence. The arrest report said he was driving on two flat tires and officers found an empty bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. That charge was dismissed.
He also said he was $1 million in debt when he moved in with his parents. He continued to split his time between Centennial and Dallas so he could visit his two sons in Dallas. It was on one of those trips where he was arrested after being indicted by a grand jury. That was July 2015.
Duntsch stood trial in 2017 where his attorneys argued he was poorly trained and inexperienced, saying he committed malpractice in chaotic operating rooms. The jury disagreed and determined the botched surgery on Erfurd was not simply malpractice but malicious and reckless actions, returning the guilty verdict in a matter of hours.
The now-disgraced neurosurgeon was sentenced to life in prison. He lost an appeal and is now being held in the Texas Department of Corrections. His possible parole hearing is listed as July 20, 2045.