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Here's The True Story Of 'Dr. Death' — A Man Who Injured And Maimed His Patients

The Peacock original series "Dr. Death" is coming to USA Network this October — here's what to know about Christopher Duntsch, the real doctor who inspired the show.

By Becca van Sambeck

We want to believe we're in safe hands when we're with a doctor. But unfortunately, sometimes doctors can be evil and twisted.

Just watch the Peacock original series "Dr. Death" for proof of that. The show, which premiered in 2021 and begins airing on USA Network on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT October 5, is fictional, but it's based on the true story of Dr. Christopher Duntsch, a man who earned the sinister nickname "Dr. Death" after many of his surgeries left patients injured, in pain, or even dead.

Joshua Jackson stars as Duntsch in the fictionalized retelling of the disturbing case, while Christian Slater and Alec Baldwin play Randall Kirby and Robert Henderson, respectively, two fellow doctors who were determined to bring Duntsch to justice. It's a show packed with jaw-dropping moments — so what should fans know about the real Dr. Duntsch?

Well, Duntsch was born in 1971 in the suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee. He went on to attend the University of Memphis before heading to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center to earn his M.D. and Ph.D., even graduating with honors, as reported D Magazine. But during his residence at the University of Tennessee, cracks would show. He was accused of using drugs on the job, and after an anonymous complaint was filed, he was asked to take a drug test — which he refused. As a result, he had to attend a program for impaired physicans, reported ProPublica. By the end of his residency, he had finished less than 100 operations; the average neurosurgeon is expected to perform around 1,000 by the end, according to the outlet.

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He still found some success at first after moving to Dallas, Texas, where he started in a private practice focused on back pain and spinal issues before starting work as a surgeon in 2011 at Baylor Regional Medical Center in the city of Plano. This is where it all seemed to start to go wrong, as he was accused of botching a surgery to treat back pain on Lee Passmore. As a result of the surgery, a ligament in his leg was severed, and he still endures back pain, according to D Magazine.

Other shocking surgeries followed, including a routine surgery on Barry Morguloff to help with a spine issue, which was where Dr. Kirby (Slater) saw firsthand how reckless and dangerous Duntsch was as he allegedly botched the procedure. Morguloff, too, suffered chronic pain after being operated on by Duntsch. Even Duntsch's good friend Jerry Summers fell victim to Duntsch: An operation to alleviate pain led to Summers being paralyzed. It was at this point that Duntsch was suspended by Baylor for 30 days.

But it wasn't enough. The next patient he operated on, Kelli Martin, died from blood loss after Duntsch cut a major artery, according to The Texas Observer. He resigned after the deadly surgery. However, because he wasn't actually fired, his record remained clean and he was able to get hired at Dallas Medical Center in 2012, where his operation on Floella Brown led to her death after he cut her verbal artery, according to D. Magazine, and botched a surgery on Mary Efurd, by amputating a nerve root and leaving surgical hardware inside her, reported the Observer. It was Efurd's surgery that spurred Dr. Robert Henderson (Alec Baldwin in the Peacock series) to attempt to take action against Duntsch.

While Duntsch was fired this time, he managed to operate again and wreak more medical havoc until his license was finally suspended in summer 2013 and revoked for good in December of that year. Ultimately, 31 of his 38 patients were left maimed, paralyzed, seriously injured, or dead after they were operated on by him. 

Duntsch was hit with six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (aka his surgical tools) in 2015. During his 2017 trial a disturbing email he sent to his former assistant Kimberly Morgan was presented as evidence against him.

“I am ready to leave the love and kindness and goodness and patience that I mix with everything else that I am and become a cold blooded killer,” he wrote, according to "Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story," a documentary about the case you can watch on Peacock. 

Ultimately, he was found guilty of injury to an elderly person in relation to Efurd's injuries. He was sentenced to life in prison, where he remains to this day.

Watch "Dr. Death" when it begins airing on USA Network on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Oct. 5, or stream episodes on Peacock now.

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