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Healthcare worker infected dozens of hospital patients with Hepatitis C

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A New Hampshire healthcare worker pled guilty to diverting and obtaining the controlled substance fentanyl as well as to product tampering. Because of his actions, at least 45 people became infected with Hepatitis C, a virus that linked to cancer of the liver, liver damage and liver failure. One of the infected patients died from the Hepatitis C infection, according to a special report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday.

David M. Kwiatkowski, a former healthcare worker at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire, was sentenced to 39 years in federal prison for his actions that led to a widespread Hepatitis C outbreak in various states, according to U.S. Attorneys in New Hampshire and Kansas. In addition to his 39-year sentence, the defendant will be supervised for three years following his release from prison. He also must pay a $1,600 special assessment and restitution in the amount of nearly $25,000.

After working as a health care technician at several medical facilities in Michigan between 2003 and 2007, the 34-year-old defendant became a “traveling” radiology technician, using various placement agencies to find employment at medical facilities in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Arizona, Kansas, Georgia, and New Hampshire.

While employed at hospitals, he stole syringes containing Fentanyl -- a powerful narcotic that's used as an anesthetic to which he did not have authorized access -- intended for patients undergoing certain medical procedures. He replaced the stolen syringes of Fentanyl with syringes that he stole from previous procedures and refilled them with saline, after having injected himself with the Fentanyl intended for his patients.

Kwiatkowski perpetrated the drug diversion and tampering despite knowing that he had tested positive for Hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that can cause serious damage to the liver, as well as other complications.

According to the FBI, Kwiatkowski told an interrogator, "I'm going to kill a lot of people out of this."

How he contracted the virus remains a mystery, but he learned sometime in June 2010, while employed at Hays Medical Center in Kansas, that he was infected with Hepatitis C.

Despite that knowledge, he continued to inject himself using stolen Fentanyl syringes, in the process causing the contamination of the syringes with his infected blood. He refilled those tainted syringes with saline and replaced them for use on unsuspecting patients undergoing subsequent procedures. Consequently, instead of receiving their prescribed doses of Fentanyl with the intended anesthetic effect, those patients actually received saline tainted with the defendant’s strain of the Hepatitis C virus.

As a "traveler," Kwiatkowski worked in no fewer than eight states, and he engaged in this diversion and tampering in each of them. His criminal activity was discovered when several unexplained cases of Hepatitis C were detected at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire in May 2012.

The shocking discovery triggered a massive public health investigation in which authorities in New Hampshire, other states in which the defendant had been employed, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sought to identify the scope of the defendant’s criminal conduct.

All told, the CDC investigation resulted in a recommendation that upwards of 12,000 patients should undergo testing to ascertain whether or not Kwiatkowski infected them with the virus. Testing to date has revealed that 32 patients who were treated at Exeter Hospital, six patients who were treated at Hays Medical Center in Kansas, six patients who were treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, and one patient who was treated at the VA Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, carry a strain of Hepatitis C that has been genetically linked to defendant's infection.

Besides hospital patients, an unsuspecting individual who has an intimate relationship with one of the Exeter Hospital victims also was infected with the same strain of the virus. Additionally, Hepatitis C contracted from the defendant has been identified as a contributing factor in the death of an elderly Kansas patient.

The defendant’s 39-year sentence was imposed on his pleas of guilty to eight counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud and eight counts of tampering with a consumer product. Fourteen of those charges were initiated in New Hampshire and two charges were transferred from the District of Kansas. This sentence is believed to be the highest sentence ever received for a crime of this nature.

Special Agent in Charge Vincent Lisi, of the FBI Boston Field Division said, “This was a heinous crime that touched so many of us in New Hampshire and in several states throughout the country. When you go into a hospital for treatment, you should be able to trust that someone like David Kwiatkowski will not steal pain medication intended for you and infect you with a deadly disease."

"Most of all, we are deeply thankful to the numerous victims who selflessly shared their time and extremely personal information with investigators under such difficult circumstances. They are the true heroes in this investigation. Though faced with difficult circumstances themselves, their extraordinary cooperation and information was the backbone for the investigation,” SAIC Lisa.

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