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Medical technician gets 39 years for triggering hepatitis C outbreak
The case against David M. Kwiatkowski
Number of states in which he worked, 2003-2012: 8, in multiple hospitals
Hepatitis C diagnosis discovered: 2010 Number of patients he is known to have infected with hepatitis C: At least 45 (No way to determine precise number of those he exposed to virus): One at VA Medical Center, Baltimore, Md., in 2008; Six at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2009; Six at Hays Medical Center in Kansas in 2010; 32 at Exeter Hospital in 2011-2012
Deaths: One known (Kansas) Cases Kwiatkowski pleaded guilty to Aug. 14: Seven of the NH cases plus the fatal Kansas case
Number of patients CDC recommended be tested for hepatitis C because of Kwiatkowski: More than 12,000 Number of Exeter Hospital patients tested: 3,753
Cost to New Hampshire to respond to public health crisis: $384,000
When Kwiatkowski began stealing pain killers intended for hospital patients: He admitted he began diverting drugs in 2002 when he and a co-worker stole vials of morphine from a Michigan emergency room.
What is hepatitis C: A viral, blood-borne illness most efficiently transmitted through contact with infected blood. It is potentially fatal. It is most commonly transmitted through needle-sharing by users of injectable drugs. It is occasionally spread sexually or through sharing personal items contaminated with infected blood (e.g. toothbrushes). There currently is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. A small percentage of those who become infected with the disease are able to “clear” the infection. Most (85 percent) develop chronic Hepatitis C. It can lead to chronic liver disease. There currently is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.
Of the 45 known victims, 32 became infected while patients at Exeter Hospital; one was infected at the VA Medical Center and six others at Johns Hopkins Hospital, both located in Baltimore, Md.; six patients were infected at Hays Medical Center in Hays, Kansas. One of the Kansas patients — 89-year-old grandmother Eleanor Murphy — later died from complications.
Kwiatkowski was arrested July 19, 2012, and pleaded guilty last Aug. 14 to eight counts each of tampering with a consumer product and obtaining controlled substances by fraud in connection with seven of the New Hampshire cases and the fatal Kansas case.
"You took my life," Page continued as Kwiatkowski stared ahead in silence. Page wept as his former wife, Joan, took his arm and escorted him back to his seat.
"I have listened to you guys. I have read your statements. I agree with you. I do belong in prison," Kwiatkowski read aloud from a written statement.
Kwiatkowski's conduct set off a national public health crisis prompting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend 12,000 people be tested for hepatitis C. Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Farley said Kwiatkowski's conduct resulted in the greatest number of victims reported in a drug diversion case. And, Farley added, his actions were particularly heinous because he could have stolen the narcotic syringes and replaced them with sterile ones. Yet Kwiatkowski chose to refill the tainted syringes and return them for patient use even though he knew he had hepatitis C at least since 2010.
While the convictions and sentencing close all criminal cases against Kwiatkowski, Kacavas said he has directed his staff to draft a policy paper that will highlight "systematic failures" in the medical care system that allowed Kwiatkowski to "exploit critical gaps" that enabled him to continue infecting others in multiple states.
The team that investigated and prosecuted Kwiatkowski's criminal case now will work on a white paper that will identify these gaps and systemic failures and possibly propose civil or administrative remedies, Kacavas said.
"However, it is a crime and had the crime been reported to law enforcement, this serial infector would not have reached Kansas, he wouldn't have reached Baltimore and he wouldn't have reached New Hampshire," Kacavas said.
In sentencing Kwiatkowski, LaPlante read aloud the 45 victims' names and thanked those who spoke in court.
"I don't know what to make of this crime," LaPlante continued. "The law doesn't view it as purposeful or knowing conduct. Just viewing it as reckless conduct or a crime of addiction just doesn't do it justice. There is a component to your conduct that goes beyond recklessness. There is a component of cruelty or sadistic or hostility or something about it," the judge continued.
"People do have a capacity for mercy. This isn't any generous helping of that. It's just a token," LaPlante explained. "As you spend the next 39 years of your life in prison, I hope you remember the one year you didn't get and remember and try to develop that capacity in yourself."
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