All things considered, Mary Efurd is one of the lucky ones. She walked into Dr. Christopher Duntsch's Texas Neurosurgery Institute in Plano on July 25, 2012 and emerged with her life. The same can't be said at least two of his former patients, who died after Dunstch botched their surgeries, according to the Texas Medical Board.
Still, Efurd doesn't feel particularly lucky. She went in for a posterior lumbar interbody fusion, a rather routine procedure that eases pain caused by stopping the motion between two vertebrae. She came out in a wheelchair and with thousands of dollars in medical bills from surgery to fix Duntsch's mistakes.
There were 38 mistakes to be exact, according to a lawsuit Efurd filed this week in Dallas County court, most significantly when he severed an important spinal nerve with a screw. This left Efurd with bilateral foot drop and quadriceps that were partially paralyzed. She is now mostly confined to a wheelchair, she says in her lawsuit.
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Surgeons, just like everyone else, make mistakes, but Efurd, like the Texas Medical Board before her, says Duntsch's negligence was beyond the pale. The lawsuit describes the scene of her surgery:
Medical personnel in the operating room with Dr. Duntsch voiced their concerns about his care and treatment of Ms. Efurd, but Dr. Duntsch did not listen to or respond to their concerns. In addition, concerns were raised by the operating room team that Dr. Duntsch seemed to be "distracted" and "disoriented." At one point, he broke scrub and left the operating room. When he returned to the OR, witnesses observed him to have "lost focus." In addition, certain personnel who were in the operating room with Dr. Duntsch commented that one explanation for his behavior may have been that he was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
When it became clear that he'd messed up, Efurd says Duntsch wanted to take her back into surgery to fix his mistakes. But then his hospital admitting privileges at Dallas Medical Center Hospital were revoked, and a Dallas surgeon, Dr. Robert Henderson, performed the procedure. He offers a 13-page letter, which is included with the suit, enumerating Duntsch's many mistakes and reiterating suspicions that he was either drunk or high.
Efurd is seeking unspecified damages from Duntsch, whose medical license was indefinitely suspended by the state of Texas this week. Nor will she probably be the last of Duntsch's patients to do so.