DALLAS (CN) – A Texas jury found a neurosurgeon guilty Tuesday of maiming an elderly patient in an exceptionally rare conviction of a medical doctor for giving substandard care.
The Dallas County jury deliberated for over four hours before it found Dr. Christopher Duntsch guilty of injury to an elderly person. He faces 5 to 99 years or life in state prison. He was arrested in July 2015 and also indicted on five counts of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury.
During the two-week trial, jurors heard testimony from several of Duntsch’s former patients. They heard testimony about major nerves and arteries being cut, improper placement of implants and the devastating permanent injuries that resulted.
Mary Efurd, 78, testified that she awoke from spinal fusion surgery in severe pain, putting her in a wheelchair. Prosecutors contend surgical implants were incorrectly placed inside her, resulting in permanent damage. They cited an email message Duntsch sent to a girlfriend six years ago that stated he was a “cold-blooded killer.”
Defense attorney Robbie McClung, of Dallas, did not dispute the surgeries were botched. She argued that Duntsch was not a properly trained or skilled surgeon who did the best he could in chaotic operating rooms. The defense downplayed the damning email message as sarcasm and blamed hospitals and medical regulators for enabling Duntsch to continue performing botched surgeries.
An emotional Efurd told reporters after the verdict that she will cry and reflect on the difficult first months of her recovery.
“I had so much anger because my life changed so much. I was very independent and suddenly became dependent on other people for transportation, meals and a lot of things,” Efurd said. “Hopefully, there will be some tighter controls and more accountability so something like this will not happen again.”
Former patient Philip Mayfield told reporters after the verdict that he was “very pleased” that Duntsch will stay in jail. He disagreed with McClung’s arguments that the botched surgeries were not criminal, that they were mistakes.
“I feel my surgery was intentional,” Mayfield said. “I woke up paralyzed from the neck down. … I try to block out what happened.”
Several civil lawsuits were filed by Duntsch’s patients after his medical license was suspended in June 2013. One patient sued Baylor in January 2014 in Dallas County Court, claiming fellow doctors called Duntsch “dangerous” and “the worst surgeon they had ever seen” and that Duntsch operated on his incorrect body part.
“Duntsch’s motivation for performing unnecessary and ill-conceived surgeries was in part due to pressure and expectation from the Baylor defendants that he bring in revenue to pay them back for the monies they had advanced him and to turn enormous profits for them,” the 19-page complaint stated.
The complaint also claimed that Duntsch operated after drinking alcohol and taking cocaine.
The Texas Medical Board cited “lack of competence, impaired status and failure to adequately care for his patients” as a “continuing threat” to public welfare when it suspended Duntsch.