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Episode 1 of 11

Three Days In Dallas | 1

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Dr. Death
Duration: 38:06
All physicians are taught, “First do no harm.” But what happens when a doctor does harm his patients?Dr. Robert Henderson was a veteran spinal surgeon in Dallas when he got an unusual phone call from a local hospital: a new surgeon had operated so poorly that a patient who’d walked in on her own two
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All physicians are taught, “First do no harm.” But what happens when a doctor does harm his patients?Dr. Robert Henderson was a veteran spinal surgeon in Dallas when he got an unusual phone call from a local hospital: a new surgeon had operated so poorly that a patient who’d walked in on her own two feet now couldn’t even wiggle her toes. Dr. Henderson had seen a lot, but he wasn't prepared for this. The surgery was so bad, in fact, he asked himself whether this person possibly be an impostor impersonating a physician?“Death Don’t Have No Mercy” performed by Delaney Davidson and Marlon Williams, courtesy of Rough Diamond Records.Please tell us what you think about our show and help us by answering a few questions at to Dr Death on Apple, Spotify, NPR One, Stitcher or sign up for email updates at to stay up to date about future episodes.Listen ad free with Wondery+, including exclusive bonus episodes. Join Wondery+ for exclusives, binges, early access, and ad free listening. Available in the Wondery App. us by supporting our sponsors!Zip Recruiter - Try ZipRecruiter FOR FREE at Bombas - Save 20% by visiting and entering the offer death in the checkout code spaceHelix Sleep - Get up to $125 off your mattress at Audible - Start a 30-day trial and get your first audiobook free by going to or by texting DEATH to 500-500Brooklinen - Get $20 off AND free shipping by going to and entering promo code deathSimplisafe - Go to and start protecting your home today
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obvious that it wasn't going well. Yeah. He kept putting in one of the screws and taking it out again, drilling, removing drilling, removing over and over toward the end of the operation dungeon started a screw into mary efforts tailbone he did it so awkwardly. No one in the room had ever seen anything quite like it. Then dutch threw up his hands jubilantly and said I can leave her just like that, she'll be fine. The surgery was over the day after her surgery. An administrator at the hospital sent an email to DR done which it said how is your patient from yesterday doing? I went on rounds this morning and she informed me that you may be taking her back to surgery on monday. Is everything okay? Yes. Everything is fine surgeries on Tuesday. Mhm. But mary Efford was far from fine. She had lost almost a third of her blood volume during the operation. She woke up from surgery in almost unbearable pain. She had walked into the hospital on her own two ft now, her legs were almost lifeless. She couldn't turn over in her bed, she couldn't raise her toes. She wailed and sobbed and begged the nurses to give her something, anything to stop the pain. Kyle Kissinger went to see her. Do you usually go into your patients? No I've never I've never gone to see a patient in their room after as an O. R. Nurse, he only sees patients before surgeries trying to become as much friends as them as I can because not only make them a little less stressed but to let them know they can trust me because I'm gonna be there while you're asleep and I'm gonna make sure that nothing bad comes to you. He knew she would need another operation and ask if he could be there. It has to be with like the whole like feeling guilty like letting her get hurt like under my under my supervision so I just I felt the responsibility that I wanted to be there to fix whatever I was there that went wrong and she was just in a lot of discomfort uh and a little bit disoriented from the sedation that she had. This is when Dr Henderson first came to see her. She wasn't mad or upset, she was more confused and disappointed and depressed. She was just thankful that there was someone else taking care of me. She said I don't ever want to see dr Dutch again. Yeah Dr Henderson brought mary effort back onto the operating table the next day by now he decided that dutch was at the very least an incompetent surgeon. Maybe worse when Dr Henderson clipped the freshly sown incisions on mary efforts back. He saw for the first time what dr dutch had done, He turned on a video recorder. Okay here we are on mary effort on 7 28. I knew it was gonna go to litigation of some sort for malpractice because of what I'd seen on the X rays and what I'd seen on her physical exam. So I thought it was just easier to just film it and dictate while I was filming it. Let me have another. The first thing he saw was a screw just sticking up right through the middle of the spinal canal and just kind of flopping around and it's attached by a rod to the screw at the level above on the right side. Well the screws solid but the rods not solid. In fact I just pull on the rod and it pulls right out. This is the S. One screw which is right as he went on he found more damage, more hardware where it shouldn't be. There were three holes poked into the bones of her spinal column where dutch had tried and failed three times to insert screws. One screw was jabbed directly into her spinal canal. That same screw had also skewered a bundle of nerves that controls one leg in the bladder. Dr. Henderson removed fragments of bone. I clean that up and I'm looking for the nerve er and there is no nerve er and then I trace it back to the spinal sack itself and I see this fluid coming out of a leak right there and the nerve roots been amputated. It's been removed, it's been resected. He removed the nerve roots so he could put bone in this place where they're not supposed to be any bone. The bundle of nerves that used to control her leg was completely gone. That's why mary effort couldn't lift her foot anymore to perform this so poorly and so disastrously that you really haven't even accomplished anything except injuring the patient. Henderson realized something else too Dutch hadn't even been operating in the right place, all this damage and had been operating on the wrong disk the whole time. Probably everyone in the operating room that day, all of the personnel in the operating room that day could have done a better job uh in performing that surgery than dr done she'd done at this point, Dr Henderson knew the surgery was completely botched.
this is Episode one three days in Dallas. I've lived and worked in Dallas for more than 20 years as a medical journalist, although now I write mostly for national magazines. I used to work for The Dallas Morning News. I've been in and out of a fair share of the hospitals here. We've got a lot of them. Dallas Medical Center sits just outside the northern edge of town. It's a community hospital, an uninspired brown building, just a few stories tall. It's been around under one name or another for decades, and it's one of several hospitals in the area where Dr Robert Henderson has worked during his 40 year career. He's a trim man, balding with a short grey beard. On July 26 2012, Dr Henderson was at home when he got a phone call from the administrator of Dallas Medical Center, and I was called in the afternoon, right around two o'clock. They had a patient who had just been through surgery, and she was not doing well, so I was over at that other hospital, probably within 90 minutes. Dr. Henderson is highly respected in the Dallas medical community. He truly loves being a surgeon. Well, I wanted to be a physician since I was seven years old and then a medical school. He quickly realized that he liked fixing people's problems just like that, seeing patients diagnosed appropriately, seeing patients, receiving the proper surgical procedure and then just observing and basking in the pride of having reversed their disease in many cases, uh, stopping their pain and actually curing problems. And that's what I liked. And had you gotten a call before this to come in and correct procedure from a previous surgeon I have over the years that's occurred multiple times, but usually it's initiated by the surgeon themselves. I mean, every surgeon has the potential to get into a situation you can't handle. Either it's outside the scope of especially, or you just discover something that wasn't there. Recognized on the preoperative diagnostics, it needs to be taken care of or an accident occurs. For most of his career, Dr Henderson has focused exclusively on the back. He's even helped develop some of the surgical techniques common to spine surgeries today. It wasn't unusual for him to get asked to help with a complicated spinal case, but this call this call was different, but I had never been called in by the administration to take over the care of a patient. When Henderson got to Dallas Medical Center, the administrator started filling him in. The patient was a woman named Mary Efford. She'd come in for surgery on her own 2 ft, but after a long day in the operating room, she had been left in agony. Now she could barely move her legs or wiggle her toes. The administrator also told Henderson the name of Mary Efford, surgeon. I had heard Donkey's name previously through Kind of the Grapevine, Dr Christopher Dutch. What he'd heard wasn't good, but it was just talk. Murmurs in Doctor's Lounge is he hadn't paid that much attention. Well, I'm putting it together with what I'd heard on the grapevine. And of course now I have a deep level of concern in some verification of what I'd heard. But Dr Henderson was also aware he was hearing from someone who might not understand all the nuances of spinal surgery, and now I really want to look at the diagnostics. Look at all the imaging that has been done since her operation. Henderson studied the X rays and the notes. Dr. Dutch had written step by step before the surgery, how he was going to go about it. His plan was correct, except there was a problem. The procedure that he intended to do was not the procedure that he did perform. So what's going through your mind when you're looking at the X rays and his operative notes and you're reading all of this? What are you thinking? Well, I'm really thinking that some kind of travesty occurred here because he hasn't done virtually anything that he intended to do or that he described in the operation. But the ailing Mary effort wasn't even the whole story. From that day at Dallas Medical Center, Dr Henderson also learned about another woman Dr Dutch had operated on just the day before, who was also in serious condition. So serious, in fact, that she had been taken into intensive care just as Dutch was scheduled to begin operating on Mary effort. He's doing it what one of these patients that he's operated on the previous day is dying, Yeah, and needs expert care. And he's the only neurosurgeon there, and he totally abandoned her. The other woman, the one who was already an intensive care was named Flow L. A. Brown Flow. L. A was 64 years old. She and her husband, Joe, had met and fallen in love in high school. Joe had retired and flow. Ella was getting ready to retire to. She had next surgery once before. A few years back, the doctors had installed titanium plates, but now her neck and left shoulder were hurting. She wanted to be pain free. Before she and Joe moved to a house on Lake Texoma, Dr Dutch was supposed to remove a disk from her spine and attached hardware to fasten two vertebrae together. He began the surgery early on the morning of July 24th 2012. A Tuesday. Racially. Oh, this is Most people in the room assumes that everything was going smoothly for the 1st 20 or 30 minutes. Then Dr Done started to complain that he was having trouble seeing her spine. He was saying, There's so much, but I can't see. Kyle Kissinger was one of the nurses in the operating room that morning. He'd worked with Dr Dutch the day before and was already starting to wonder how good a surgeon he was. So he was using one of the scrub text from our hospital. And so he just keeps telling her sophomore sophomore, Get that blood out there. I can't see. There was a lot of blood way more than there should have been. It was seeping through the blue, draping around flow Ella's body and dripping onto the floor. There was a bucket on the floor for use sponges, usually when they're tossed into the bucket there, splotchy or slightly pink. But not this time. I was getting back dark red sponges. Sponges were soaked through with blood. The surgery lasted a long time, way longer than it should have when it was done. Flow L. A. Had lost a lot of blood in the recovery room, though she said she felt okay. She asked for ice that evening. Joe came to visit with their son and granddaughter. Joe was worried. Something about his wife didn't seem right. He would later describe her as Vigee. When he came back at around 5 30 the next morning, her condition had deteriorated. Flotillas body was convulsing. Joe dashed to the front desk and told the nurses she needed help. A half hour later, flow L. A. Brown lost consciousness. When Kyle Kissinger arrived for work, another nurse told me, Hey, you know, did you hear what's going on with the patient from yesterday? Kissinger asked. If Dr Done, which had been to see her. I'm like, Well, have you called him or, you know, she just says We're unable to get a hold of them. So which is concerning, in fact, Dr Done, which was nowhere to be found. He was due to perform another surgery that morning, the one on Mary Efford. The operation was supposed to start at 7 a.m. But seven came and went. Finally, around 7 45 he arrived at the hospital. When he got there, Kissinger told him about what was going on with flow L. A. Brown. Dr. Dench looked disheveled. He had two days of stubble. He had pinpoint pupils and hardly seemed to blink. Kissinger turned to the surgical tech, so I turned again and said, I mean, am I wrong? Is that guy on something? And there was something else. Dutch had a hole about the size of a nickel in the back of his scrubs was on the but chief of his scrubs, and, uh, he didn't wear underwear. So, like, that's why I really, like, you know, shined out to me. It stood out to him because he had seen that same hole twice before. That hole I saw Monday, Tuesday. Wednesday. It could only mean one thing Dr Done, which hadn't changed his scrubs in three days. Kissinger couldn't believe it. That's kind of concerning, given the fact that Ortho and sponsor jeans are very, very much sticklers when it comes to sterility with his last patient in the ICU. No one would have been surprised if Dr Dutch decided to delay the Mary F. Fridge surgery and tend to flow Ella, but instead he began the operation.
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