The Terrifying True Story Behind Series ‘Dr. Death’, Based On The Viral True Crime Podcast Of The Same Name

An upcoming series, starring Joshua Jackson as Christopher Duntsch, will tell the story of the infamous spinal surgeon.

Over the years, there have been true crime podcasts that have stopped us dead in our tracks. From Dirty John, which told the story of charming, manipulative con man John Meehan and his relationship with wealthy Southern Californian divorcée, Debra Newell, to Seriala series by investigative journalist Sarah Koenig, which saw its first installment take a deep dive into the murder of Hae Min Lee, and the subsequent arrest of Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Masud Syed. 

Just like those that had come before it, Wondery’s Dr. Death told the story of an American neurosurgeon who was sentenced to life in prison for gross malpractice after the death and severe maiming of several of his patients while he was working in two hospitals in Texas. The Dr. Death podcast was hosted by journalist Laura Beil and looked into how this tragic situation could have happened in not one but two hospitals.

In May 2021, Stan announced it was adapting the acclaimed podcast into a new drama series, which on top of a star-studded cast, features an all-female directing team, including Maggie Kiley (Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story, Riverdale), who will also executive produce the first two episodes, Jennifer Morrison (One of Us is Lying, Euphoria) and So Yong Kim (Lovesong, Grand Army).

Intrigued? Below we take a deep dive into the true story behind Dr. Death and Christopher Duntsch. 

What Is The Dr. Death Series About? 

The upcoming project will be based on Wondery’s viral podcast of the same name, which was inspired by the terrifying true story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch (Joshua Jackson), a rising star in the Dallas medical community. “Young, charismatic, and ostensibly brilliant, Dr. Duntsch was building a flourishing neurosurgery practice when everything suddenly changed,” its official description reads. “Patients entered his operating room for complex but routine spinal surgeries and left permanently maimed or dead. As victims piled up, two fellow physicians, neurosurgeon Robert Henderson (Alec Baldwin) and vascular surgeon Randall Kirby (Christian Slater), as well as Dallas prosecutor Michelle Shughart (AnnaSophia Robb), set out to stop him.” 

The terrifying project will offer up a look inside the twisted mind of the real Dr. Duntsch and how the medical system designed to protect the defenceless failed. 

Watch the first spine-tingling trailer below. 

Who Was Dr. Christopher Duntsch And Where Is He Now? 

While the nightmarish story about to play out on screen might seem like the stuff of horror flicks, it is actually based on the real-life case of Dr. Christopher Daniel Duntsch—a former neurosurgeon who gained the nickname Dr. Death for gross malpractice after his surgeries resulted in at least two deaths and left 30 people paralysed. 

Where Is Christopher Duntsch Now?

In 2017, Duntsch was sentenced to life behind bars after a jury found him guilty of injury to an elderly person. While he was originally indicted on six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon—with the indictment listing his “hands and surgical tools” as his deadly weapons—prosecutors chose to focus on victim Mary Efurd, considering the injuries to her carried the harshest penalties, according to a 2017 Washington Post report.

In 2012, 74-year-old Mary Efurd, a patient of Duntsch’s, woke from surgery with the inability to stand after a routine procedure for a surgeon with Duntsch’s medical background. According to the Washington Post, Mary underwent surgery two days later, this time under the care of Robert Henderson, who found something that shocked him—”spinal fusion hardware was left in her soft tissue.”  

The damage Duntsch caused and the number of his patients’ lives ruined is best described by a 2016 piece in the Dallas Times, written by Matt Goodman. 

“There was Kellie Martin, who died from massive blood loss after a surgery at Baylor Plano. There was Floella Brown, whose sliced vertebral artery triggered the stroke that killed her at Dallas Medical Center. There was Duntsch’s childhood friend, Jerry Summers, who woke up from a procedure unable to move his arms and legs. There was a dissection of one patient’s esophagus, and screws that an indictment labeled ‘far too long’ that caused significant blood loss in another patient. One surgeon described these as ‘never events.’ They shouldn’t ever happen in someone’s entire career. And yet they occurred in Duntsch’s operating rooms over a period of just two years.” 

Despite the amount of damage left behind by Duntsch’s surgeries, many were ruled “accidents” or “random mistakes” and his medical license wouldn’t be suspended until 2013.

All four hospitals that employed Duntsch have ongoing civil cases against them.

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