A victim of a surgeon whose crimes inspired the upcoming NBC television drama Dr Death believes there could be more potentially dangerous medical professionals still working in hospitals.
Kenneth Fennell, 78 was a patient of Christopher Duntsch, a surgeon who worked throughout the Dallas area. Mr Fennell went under Duntsch’s knife to rectify his back pain.
He was operated on by Duntsch twice. During the first procedure, Duntsch operated on the wrong part. The second time, Duntsch removed a section of his femoral nerve and he was temporarily paralysed. Now, he can walk again, only in short bursts without needing to sit down again.
“People in the same profession are trying to police their profession, trying to protect themselves and protect their own,” Mr Fennell told the Daily Beast. “Part of what it took here, with the medical board in Texas, were doctors calling in personally, going down and seeing the board members trying to get [Duntsch] stopped. It took them two years to do that.”
The lawyer representing 14 of Duntsch’s victims agreed with the assessment that within hospital administrations, there were too many people concerned with protecting themselves over the patients.
“It seems to be the custom and practice,” Kay Van Wey said in court during the proceedings. “Kick the can down the road and protect yourself first, and protect the doctor second and make it be somebody else’s problem.”
It took six months for anyone to register a complaint with the medical board after he had caused injuries to multiple people. The investigation process took a year. During that time, Duntsch was allowed to work as a surgeon. According to court documents after his arrest in 2015, the conduct in the operating room dates back years.
During the 14 months between Mr Fennell’s surgeries, Duntsch’s work led to the death of two women, Floella Brown and Kellie Martin. Another person had a surgical sponge left inside her, which led to an infection.
Duntsch was convicted of aggravated assault in 2017. This made him the the first surgeon to be successfully tried in a court of law concerning work done on an operating table. The charge related to an elderly woman, whose pain made her scream out loud in the recovery room. Now, she is wheelchair-bound.
The story provides the basis for the upcoming television show, which is based on the true crime podcast Dr Death, a Wondery production of the same name. Mr Fennell collaborated a great deal with the production of the show because “hopefully it will keep him in jail”, he told the Daily Beast.
Dr Death arrived on the streaming network Peacock on 15 July. It stars Joshua Jackson, Alec Baldwin, Christian Slater, AnnaSophia Robb and Grace Gummer.