Based on the 2018 Wondery podcast of the same name, the series stars Joshua Jackson as the charismatic but wholly incompetent surgeon and explores not just his crimes, but the inadequacies within the US healthcare system that allowed him to keep harming his patients.
As a new surgeon operating at the Baylor Regional Medical Center in Texas in late 2011, Duntsch quickly earned a reputation among his co-workers as a grandstander.
“[Duntsch would say,] ‘Everybody’s doing it wrong. I’m the only clean, minimally invasive guy in the whole state,”’ his colleague Dr Mark Hoyle told D magazine.
Duntsch’s skills didn’t live up to his bragging, with many of his patients leaving with severe spinal injuries, damaged nerves or severed vocal cords.
While assisting him to perform back surgery on Lee Passmore, Hoyle says he thought Duntsch was so “reckless” that he physically restrained him during the procedure to make him stop.
When Passmore woke, he discovered that Duntsch had severed a ligament in his leg, leaving him with permanent pain and numbness in his feet. He’d also placed a screw in an incorrect location in his spine and stripped its threads so it couldn’t be removed.
Over the next few months, Duntsch performed two more botched surgeries. He left bone fragments floating inside one patient and cut an artery of another, causing massive bleeding and permanent paralysis. The hospital became concerned enough to place him on a 30-day suspension.
But the worst was yet to come. When his suspension was over, Duntsch cut a major artery along the spine of Kellie Martin and she bled to death on the theatre table.
Duntsch resigned, meaning the hospital didn’t have to report him to the National Practitioner Data Bank or the state licensing board. This allowed the surgeon to continue working without any documented discipline on his record, which could have stopped other facilities from hiring him.
Duntsch picked up a new job at the Dallas Medical Center, where he didn’t last a week before being sacked. During that time, on July 24, 2012, he performed two surgeries that left one patient dead and another, Mary Efurd, permanently crippled.
When Dr Robert Henderson was called in to try and fix her surgery, he thought Duntsch had to be a con man.
“My first thought as I discovered the gravity of the situation was that this man might not have even been trained as a physician, let alone a surgeon,” Henderson told WHO’s sister publication People magazine of “Dr Death”.
Duntsch’s medical licence was finally revoked by the Texas Medical Board on June 26, 2013. In 2015, the neurosurgeon was found guilty of “maiming and paralysing” Efurd by using his “hands and surgical tools” as deadly weapons and sentenced to life in prison.
Many of 50-year-old Duntsch’s ex-colleagues believe his actions weren’t just incompetence but deliberate. “I’d call him a sociopath,” Dr Randall Kirby told People.