‘Dr. Death’ is a medical true-crime series that follows the trail of human misery and death left in the wake of the rogue former neurosurgeon Christopher Duntsch. Much to the horror of his colleagues, Duntsch was known to brutally carry out faulty procedures on the necks and spines of his patients, resulting in many of them becoming partially paralyzed, losing their vocal cords, and even dying. His crimes came to the forefront after another spine specialist went in to correct Duntsch’s botched surgery, only to discover that he had drilled holes, misplaced screws, and severed a nerve root in his patient’s spine. Even more troubling was the fact that this was not a singular incident.
Over the span of a few years, Duntsch maimed over 30 of his patients and was apparently responsible for the deaths of at least two of them. His surgeries are depicted in excruciating detail on ‘Dr. Death,’ in which many of his patients seem to be based on real-life counterparts. Though the fates of each of the surgeon’s victims are tragic, the characters of Rose Keller, Dorothy Burke, and Madeline Beyer stand out. Let’s take a closer look at them and see if they are based on actual patients of Dr. Duntsch.
Who are Rose Keller, Dorothy Burke, and Madeline Beyer?
Tragically, the characters of Rose Keller, Dorothy Burke, and Madeline Beyer are all based on real people that unwittingly went under Duntsch’s scalpel, with appalling consequences. Rose Keller is seen on the show as a 72-year-old woman with a herniated disc that Duntsch operates on. Despite the flawed surgery, she is the only patient on the show who is seen to be recovering relatively normally (as stated by the nurse named Josh on the show).
In reality, it seems like the character is partly based on Lee Passmore. Duntsch operated on Lee Passmore for a herniated disc in 2011. The general surgeon assisting the surgery, Dr. Mark Hoyle, was horrified when he noticed Duntsch working on his patient’s spine whilst it was pooled with blood, making it impossible to see what he was doing. Despite Duntsch claiming that he worked by touch and not sight, Dr. Hoyle stepped in and stopped further damage, possibly saving Passmore’s life.
The character of Dorothy Burke is most likely based on Floella Brown, who, much like Burke on the show, suffered from a stroke after Duntsch cut oper her vertebral artery. He then postponed his examination of Brown, whose condition was rapidly deteriorating, and instead went ahead with the elective surgery of Mary Efurd (Madeline Beyer on the show). When repeatedly asked by hospital staff to examine Brown or transfer her to the care of another doctor, Duntsch proposed drilling a hole in her head— a procedure he was neither qualified for nor the hospital (Dallas Medical Center both in the show and in reality) was equipped for.
The elective surgery that he abandoned Floella Brown in favor of was that of Mary Efurd, who was supposed to have two of her vertebrae linked by a metal plate. Much like we see on the show with Madeline Beyer, her real-life counterpart Mary Efurd awoke after the surgery with excruciating pain. Revision surgery on her by Dr. Robert Henderson revealed holes in her spine made by misplaced screws, with another lodged in a nerve root of her spine. Once again, as seen on the show, this led to a horrified Dr. Henderson launching an investigation into Duntsch and his appalling practices. It was also noted during the surgery of Mary Efurd that Duntsch might have been intoxicated as his pupils were visibly dilated.
Where are Rose Keller, Dorothy Burke, and Madeline Beyer Now?
The real-life counterparts of Rose Keller, Dorothy Burke, and Madeline Beyer are most likely Lee Passmore, Floella Brown, and Mary Efurd. Due to his botched surgery, Passmore suffers from debilitating shakes and jitters but considers himself lucky to be alive, considering the fates of some of Duntsch’s other patients. Floella Brown, who suffered a stroke after the rogue surgeon slit her vertebral artery and delayed attending to her post-operative complications, eventually slipped into a coma and passed away.
Mary Efurd, who underwent revision surgery by Dr. Henderson, survived but has been wheelchair-bound since her initial surgery by Duntsch. In what might be some small consolation, Efurd’s case was largely responsible for having Duntsch convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Under the leadership of then-assistant district attorney Michelle Shughart, the prosecution charged him with harm to an elderly person with reference to the botched surgery he performed on Efurd and managed to secure a life sentence for the criminal surgeon.
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