It was a routine back surgery.
Schoolteacher Kellie Martin wanted to get it done before going on a cruise. A cruise she would never take.
“I asked him if she was going to be OK and he said yes,” her husband, retired Garland police Lt. Don Martin, said as he described what Dr. Christopher Duntsch said to him just moments after she came out of surgery in 2012.
Prosecutors are seeking to hold the former neurosurgeon, who had his medical license revoked, criminally liable for the botched surgery of another patient. Dozens of doctors and nurses are expected to testimony in the unprecedented case that is expected to last most of February.
Over and over, nurses and doctors testified Monday that Duntsch seemed remarkably nonchalant during and after the botched surgeries that claimed the lives of Martin and another patient. Others were left paralyzed or maimed.
Surgical nurse Catherine Kelly-Lorenz testified about what happened after Kellie Martin came out of surgery.
“She was screaming in pain,” she recalled.
When asked if she had ever seen a patient come out of surgery in that condition, Kelly-Lorenz, sobbed, “No, ma'am.” She said Duntsch did not seem concerned. It was a surgery she'll never forget.
“I don't ever want to do another one again,” she said.
Jurors also heard the nearly two-hour video deposition of Jerry Summers, Duntsch’s childhood friend, former roommate and one-time employee.
The two men had grown up in Memphis and played football together in high school. Summers moved to Dallas in 2011 to help his friend who was setting up a new medical practice. Summers had been in a car wreck and was having sharp pain and numbness in his arm.
Duntsch agreed to do the surgery.
Summers testified that he woke up from that routine neck surgery in February 2012 unable to move.
“It just feels like your body weighs about 10,000 pounds and you can't pick it up,” he said. He recalls yelling and screaming for his friend and doctor.
The only thing he could move was his head.
Anesthesiologist Dr. Joy Gathe-Ghermany testified that Summers lost a third of blood during that surgery.
Gathe-Ghermany said because of the amount of blood loss, she asked Duntsch repeatedly during the surgery if everything was OK and he said it was.
Once she saw after the surgery that Summers couldn’t move his arms and legs, she decided that she would stay and monitor him rather than doing another scheduled surgery with Duntsch.
Duntsch performed the other surgery, which surprised her given Summers’ condition.
Surgical Nurse Laura Strasser, who had taken Summers to the recovery room, testified that she had never seen an outcome like from that type of surgery.
She says Duntsch seemed remarkably unconcerned after the surgery. “He was just coming down the hallway eating chips,” she said.
His defense attorney suggested that perhaps Duntsch was just hungry.
Nurse Marcia Adlam testified that she in the operating room when Duntsch performed a second surgery on Summers to try to repair the problem.
She testified that the one thing that stood out her in mind was how Duntsch was taking “chunks” of tissue out of Summers. Adlam found that odd because that was not typical of the way she had seen neurosurgeons work.
Typically, they work slowly and meticulously because they are working near the spinal code.
“It just seemed like he was hurrying, hurrying through the operation,” Adlam testified.
Debra Gunaca, another nurse testified that she heard another doctor say during that second surgery something that surprised her.
“Holy (expletive), what the (expletive) did that guy do” she recalled the doctor saying.
Angelina Fusco, a former ICU nurse, testified about her encounters with Duntsch days after Summers’ surgeries.
She said he overheard him telling Duntsch telling Summers that, “’It was all going to be fine. We’ll give you another course of steroids and it’ll get better.’”
Fusco said she knew what Duntsch was telling Summers could not be true.
“If steroids were that kind of miracle drug, everybody would be on them,” she said.
Fusco testified that she heard Summers telling Duntsch that he was going to lodge a complaint against him.
“You’re going to get me in trouble,” Duntsch told Summers, according to her notes. “If you don’t stop this, I’ll have to fire you as a patient.”
She said Duntsch had requested everyone to leave the room but him. But she had gone back into the room because she did not think it was appropriate to leave him alone in the room with Summers.
Fusco said Duntsch then wanted to increase the amount of sedation medication being given to Summers. She refused because she believed it would harm Summer given his weakened condition.
“I feel like I’m not being told the truth,” her notes, recorded Summers as saying. “I feel like something is wrong.”
Summers testified that he has gone through a total of four surgeries trying unsuccessfully to correct what happened as a result of the surgeries performed by Duntsch.
He has a condition called “incomplete paralysis,” meaning he can still feel touch and pain. He can only move his shoulder and head.
Summers said Duntsch told him there had been some unforeseen complications. He says Duntsch never acknowledged having made any mistakes. He is no longer in contact with his former friend.
He testified that his friend often bragged about being a great doctor and building an empire in Dallas.
“He was looking forward to taking over Dallas,” Summers said.
Martin’s surgery was the month after Summers. Martin says Dunstch told him the surgery went well, but there had been some complications. He said Duntsch came back and told him that they had lost her vitals and that she had crashed during the surgery.
“I said, ‘Go back in there and start working on her,” Don Martin said.
Julie Hogg, another nurse, testified that Duntsch “acted very nonchalant” as Kellie Martin’s condition worsened.
Several hours later, another doctor came out and told Don Martin that his wife of 32 years had not survived the surgery.
“He was rather quiet,” Don Martin said. “He had a bewildered look on his face.”
Prosecutors say Duntsch had cut through her spinal cord. He slashed a major artery. Kellie Martin bled to death.
“I think Kelly deserves justice we do and all the other families that have been impacted by this man,” Don Martin said. “It's the least I can do for my girls and myself.”
His advice to other families: Don’t ever underestimate a surgery. Always get a second opinion.
Dr. Robert Hoyle testified Friday morning that after one of those botched surgeries that he told Duntsch that what he was doing was dangerous.
“You’re going to hurt somebody,” Hoyle says he told Duntsch. “I’m never going to work with you again.”