THE magic words every person suffering from back pain wants to hear: “I can fix you”.
Except this couldn’t be further from the truth for Mary Efurd and 32 other patients who suffered at the hands of ex-neurosurgeon, Christopher Duntsch.
Duntsch, who went on to become known as Dr Death and The Butcher, radiated confidence, claiming he was the best in Dallas — he even had TV adverts where he harped on about “giving you the spine surgery that would take your pain away”.
Instead, the 47-year-old intentionally botched his patents’ surgery. Two of his patients died shortly after operations, while others were left paralysed and wheelchair-bound.
Survivors have described him as a “monster”, “psychopath” and “killer”.
Mary Efurd was 74-years-old at the time of her surgery. She had woken from her operation screaming in excruciating pain.
She soon realised she could no longer move her legs. Going under Duntsch’s knife in 2012 ruined her life and she has been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
Duntsch had claimed the operation would ease the back pain she had complained of, but by the time he had changed out of his scrubs and washed his hands, Mrs Efurd was feeling worse than ever, The Sun reported.
“Dr Death” drilled into her muscle instead of her bone, recklessly sliced into one nerve at the root and deliberately twisted a metal screw into another — causing searing pains which lasted for days.
“He took away my life, as it was, my freedom,” Mrs Efurd told Inside Edition in 2015.
In another shocking case, Jeff Cheney said he woke up from an operation to learn that Duntsch had removed part of his spinal cord by mistake, paralysing the entire right side of his body.
Jackie Troy found herself unable to talk — Duntsch paralysed her vocal chords, as he nearly did to Jeff Glidewell, after mistaking his oesophagus for a tumour and then slicing into it.
A new podcast, called Dr Death, explores his crimes in detail — featuring testimony from the people whose lives he ruined as well as the lawyers who helped put him behind bars.
In February last year, Duntsch was sentenced to life in prison for maiming his patients including Kellie Martin who died of massive blood loss after an operation, followed by Floella Brown, who died when Duntsch slit a vertebral artery, which triggered a stroke.
After his verdict and in an emotional interview, Mrs Efurd told a Dallas magazine, DMagazine, that she will do some crying and then reflect back on how difficult those first months were afterwards.
No doctor in Dallas has ever been convicted for a surgery gone wrong.
“I had so much anger, because my life changed so much. I was very independent and I had to become dependent on others for transportation, for my meals, for a lot of things,” Mrs Efurd said.
Philip Mayfield sat outside the courtroom after the verdict, clutching a cane. He told the Dallas magazine he too can’t feel the right side of his body after Duntsch cut through a critical spinal nerve while trying to treat a herniated disc.
“There was no mercy that he showed, no compassion that he showed towards any of the patients,” Mr Mayfield said. “Physically, I’m nowhere near what I intended on being. I’m a lot worse. It was supposed to be a minor procedure to relieve some pain in my arms … and he ended up cutting into my spinal cord.”
Neurosurgeon doctor Robert Henderson, who was brought in to repair as best he could the damage to some of the patients, said “this is almost, literally a serial killer”.
And in another, he wrote: “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.”
These are among the grim details which will be explored in the Dr Death podcast, a six-part investigation hosted by journalist Laura Beil.
Dr Death is made by Wondery, the creators of LA true-crime podcast Dirty John.
WHO IS ‘DR DEATH’
Duntsch had an MD and a PhD at the University of Tennessee Health science Center in Memphis.
He had been nicknamed Dr D, Dr Death and The Butcher for gross malpractice resulting in the death and maiming of several patients while working at Baylor Plano and Dallas Medical Center.
He allegedly had a drug problem, where he once spent a whole night doing cocaine at a party, before changing into his scrubs as soon as the sun came up and then going straight to work.
But Duntsch denied the drug claims, telling an Inside Edition reporter, “No maam, never have”.
It is well documented that Duntsch had a warped ego which could have driven him to harm the people he was meant to protect.
Prosecutors said this greed fuelled him, with DMagazine reporting his ego ballooned, as evidenced in other emails in which he compared himself to God and Einstein.
He once wrote that he was a “mother f****r stone cold killer.”
Drug and alcohol abuse dogged him throughout his career, the publication reported, but he never tested positive.
Substance abuse allegations largely stayed out of the trial until the sentencing phase — the outcomes were poor enough that the state could centre on those to secure his sentence.
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Originally published as How ‘Butcher’ maimed patients