Healthcare

Authorities Say a Plano Neurosurgeon Killed, Paralyzed and Left Sponges Inside Patients

Dr. Christopher Duntsch didn't last long as a doctor in Texas. Two and a half years after the state awarded him a medical license, the founder and chief surgeon of the Texas Neurosurgical Institute in Plano had it indefinitely revoked by the Texas Medical Board, which decided he posed a grave danger to patients.

They had good reason to be concerned, at least according to information presented at a hearing on Wednesday. Over 16 months beginning in January 2012, the agency says Duntsch, a self-proclaimed expert in "minimally invasive" spinal surgeries, has botched procedures that have killed two patients, paralyzed a third and severely injured a fourth by, among other things, leaving a sponge inside their body.

The precise details of what went wrong vary somewhat from case to case, but each one involves an amateurish series of mistakes and oversights that call into question Duntsch's competence.

Duntsch, according to the TMB's order, routinely misdiagnosed patients, used the wrong procedures and equipment, and failed to order needed neuro-imaging tests. When things went wrong, Duntsch either didn't realize -- he overlooked an obvious spinal hemorrhage during a procedure, with fatal consequences -- or he made it worse by when he tried to fix things using the wrong procedures. Almost all suffered excessive blood loss.

Duntsch doesn't seem to have always been such a terrible doctor. He graduated from a reputable medical school (the University of Tennessee) and, in the decade since, has never been disciplined, either in Texas or Tennessee. The TMB doesn't go into great detail about how he flew off the rails so spectacularly, but it does declare him "unable to practice medicine with reasonable skill and safety due to impairment from drugs or alcohol."

Here's the full order:

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson