By: Riona Maharaj, Articles Editor, J.D. Candidate, December 2019, St. Thomas University School of Law.

You go into the hospital for a forty-five-minute surgery to alleviate your chronic back pain, the result of being a truck driver for nearly two decades. As you awaken from the anesthesia you hear the panicked medical staff around you. They are asking you to try and move your legs. You try, and to your horror, realize you are paralyzed. This happened to Philip Mayfield when he underwent back surgery performed by Dr. Christopher Duntsch; the same surgeon who maimed more than thirty people over a period of eighteen months. These botched operations caused the death in two individuals and multiple cases of paralysis.

Dr. Christopher Duntsch’s story aired on the podcast “Dr. Death” hosted by Laura Beil. Duntsch moved to Dallas in late 2010, and individuals who knew him personally said he was “supremely confident in his abilities.” After graduating from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Department of Neurosurgery he was given a position at Baylor Regional Medical Center of Plano. During his short tenure, he botched surgeries on three patients where one bled to death, and a friend who was also an employee at the hospital became a quadriplegic after surgery. At the time his surgical privileges were removed, and he resigned from Baylor Regional Medical Center.

In the summer of 2012, a doctor who witnessed Dr. Duntsch’s errors at Baylor Regional Medical Center sent in a complaint to the Medical Board. The procedure for resolving complaints is slow and painstaking, the statute guarantees doctors the maximum legal protection. The Medical Board staff screens every complaint and there is a forty-five day period in order to decide if the agency will act. If a decision of action is reached, then investigators will subpoena hospital records and then a pair of volunteer doctors in the same specialty will review the case. Once a case has been initiated the investigators will make a recommendation to the board and the burden of proof is on them if they try to discipline a doctor. Board members tend to act conservatively and take action they are reasonably sure will be effective. While a doctor’s case is being resolved they continue to practice even those accused of the most heinous malpractice.

Dr. Christopher Duntsch obtained surgical privileges at Dallas Medical Center in July 2012, where he was hired using a letter provided from Baylor Regional Medical Center after his resignation. During his first surgeries at Dallas Medical Center, things went wrong where Floella Brown died after a botched surgery. On the same day hours later, Dr. Christopher Duntsch performed another botched surgery on Mary Efurd, whereby she was hardly able to move her legs. Another doctor was assigned to repair the surgery on Mary Efurd, and the doctor was shocked at what was seen inside the patient. After verifying Dr. Christopher Duntsch had graduated and completed the residency program at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, the doctor called the Medical Board stating Dr. Christopher Duntsch should not be operating as one patient had died and others were paralyzed which had no effect on the Medical Board. The CEO of Dallas Medical Center fired Dr. Christopher Duntsch and reported him to the Medical Board. It was not until June 2013, when Dr. Christopher Duntsch had lost his surgical privileges after fellow surgeons complained to the Texas Medical Board.

The Texas Medical Board was the only entity who could stop Dr. Christopher Duntsch from seeing more patients. The board is limited in its ability to investigate malpractice and can only open a case if there is a written complaint. When the board is investigation conduct of the doctor the investigation is confidential until completed. It is up to the hospital to police doctors and in this situation, the hospitals did not police Dr. Christopher Duntsch. Baylor Regional Medical Center did not report him to the national practitioner database as well as to the Texas Medical Board. The reasons provided as to why this action is not always commenced is due to not wanting to ruin a doctor’s career, the concern for litigation, and hospitals make a lot of money from neurosurgeries. In light of the situation which occurred it can be seen the hospitals did not perform the job of policing medical doctors. There needs to be a penalty in place for hospitals who do not police their doctors as the deaths and paralysis of the numerous patients could have been averted. The unnecessary pain and suffering the patients had to endure could have been avoided if the hospitals had reported and policed without fear of repercussion in the form of litigation and a penalty was in place to deal with situations like these. In February 2017, Dr. Christopher Duntsch was sentenced life in prison for maiming his patients.