Dr. Death to hit TV screens: A timeline of the former neurosurgeon's case

Written by Alan Condon | August 27, 2019 | Print  | Email

The story of former neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch made its way from a true crime podcast to TV screens in a series that will feature Alec Baldwin, Jamie Dornan and Christian Slater.

The podcast called Dr. Death, hosted by healthcare and science journalist Laura Bell, was released by Wondery in September 2018.

From 2011 to 2013, Mr. Duntsch's operations left 31 patients paralyzed or seriously injured and two of them dead.

Here is a timeline of Mr. Duntsch's case:

July 2011: Mr. Duntsch began practicing with Minimally Invasive Spine Institute in Dallas and received surgical privileges at Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, Texas.  

Fall 2011: The former neurosurgeon performed multiple procedures at Baylor that resulted in lawsuits and permanent physical damage to three patients. 

February 2012: In a spinal fusion procedure on his close friend Jerry Summers, Mr. Duntsch penetrated an artery and left his friend paralyzed from the neck down.

Spring 2012: Following a suspension from Baylor after the botched surgery on his friend, Mr. Duntsch operated on a teacher who suffered a compressed nerve. During surgery, he cut a major blood vessel, which caused the patient to bleed out and die in the hospital.

April 2012: The former neurosurgeon resigned from Baylor. 

July 2012: Mr. Duntsch was granted temporary surgical privileges at Dallas Medical Center and prepared for five trial surgeries in a three-day period. His privileges were revoked after one surgery resulted in a patient's death and another in permanent physical damage. Neurosurgeon Robert Henderson, MD, found metal hardware inside the muscles of one of Mr. Duntsch's patients and an amputated nerve root in another. Dr. Henderson filed an official complaint with the Texas Medical Board.

May 2013: In a surgery to relieve cervical pain, Mr. Duntsch punctured a patient's artery, cut the vocal cords and pierced a hole in the esophagus, before sewing the wound with a sponge left inside the patient. The patient spent four days in the ICU and has permanent nerve damage.

June 2013: The Texas Medical Board suspended Mr. Duntsch's license.

December 2013: Mr. Duntsch's license was permanently revoked. He later filed for bankruptcy and moved into his parent's home.

February 2017: Mr. Duntsch was convicted for aggravated assault associated with care provided in the OR. He was sentenced to life in prison.  

December 2018: Mr. Duntsch’s defense attempted to appeal the guilty verdict, arguing that the trial court abused its discretion by admitting evidence of his alleged extraneous conduct into evidence and alleging that prosecutors failed to prove his culpable mental state beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors referenced an email Mr. Duntsch sent to a girlfriend seven months before the surgery that led to his criminal charge, where he labeled himself as a cold blooded killer.

Mr. Duntsch's appeal was denied as Dallas’ Fifth Court of Appeals upheld the conviction by a 2-1 split decision. 

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