It’s time to catch up with America’s most notorious neurosurgeon, Dr. Christopher Duntsch. Two years ago, I blogged about his misadventures in spine surgery, originally detailed in an article in the Texas Observer.
To recap briefly, he ran amok for a couple of years in the Dallas metropolitan area injuring several patients and killing two. One of the patients who suffered significant harm was his former roommate. There were allegations of drug and alcohol abuse.
Despite complaints to the Texas Medical Board by doctors who had participated in some of his operations, it was slow to investigate and did not suspend his license promptly. He also was able to obtain privileges at other hospitals while being pushed out of the original institution that had hired him.
Justice appears to be imminent.
In May of this year, the Texas Observer reported that Dr. Duntsch had been arrested for shoplifting $887 worth of goods from a local Walmart.
“Will hospitals or administrators be punished for allowing Dr. Duntsch to continue operating for so long?” – Skeptical Scalpel
But the real story is that he was just indicted and jailed on five counts of aggravated assault and one count of injury to an elderly person. Bond was set at $600,000, and he could face as many as 20 years in prison if convicted.
An interesting feature of this saga is that Dr. Duntsch posted several rambling, nearly incoherent comments online in response to the piece about his alleged shoplifting spree. I don’t have enough space to post them, but you should take a look and judge for yourself.
The story about his arrest for assault contains two interesting quotes. Dr. Duntsch apparently emailed his assistant and said, “anyone close to me thinks that I likely am something between God, Einstein and the antichrist.”
He went on to say, “What I am being is what I am, one of a kind, a [expletive] stone cold killer.”
Put together the rambling comments and the quotes, and you wonder whether Dr. Duntsch is trying to establish an insanity defense.
Speaking of quotes, here are a few from patients who suffered serious complications at his hands from a recent episode of the “Inside Edition.”
One said, “It feels like somebody has an ice pick planted squarely in my back. I shouldn’t be this way.”
“I was horrified. I was speechless,” said another victim who woke up with upright-sided paralysis.
Another whose esophagus was mistaken for a tumor said, “He stuck a sponge in the hole in my esophagus and sewed me up.”
Will hospitals or administrators be punished for allowing Duntsch to continue operating for so long? I wouldn’t bet on it. Apparently, Duntsch and at least one hospital have been dropped from a suit leaving only a nurse who assisted him as a defendant.
Should signs of trouble with this surgeon have been picked up sooner? As I said in my post from 2 years ago, “It is unlikely that he suddenly became a terrible surgeon after completing his training.”
Will the victims receive adequate compensation for their injuries? It’s not certain because of the cap on malpractice awards in Texas, and Duntsch has filed for bankruptcy.
That this happened in a major city, or in fact anywhere, in the United States is frightening, and it bolsters the argument that doctors can’t police themselves.
Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and critical care and has re-certified in both several times. He blogs at SkepticalScalpel.blogspot.com and tweets as @SkepticScalpel.