Hospital technician infected dozens with hepatitis C

A US hospital technician has agreed to a plea deal after he admitted to stealing drugs and syringes, infecting dozens of patients with hepatitis C with tainted needles, and “killing a lot of people.”

David Kwiatkowski, a traveling medical technician, worked in 18 hospitals in seven US states before he was hired in New Hampshire in 2011, where he was soon arrested for infecting patients with tainted needles. He has been in jail since his July 2012 arrest.

If Kwiatkowski had stood trial, the 33-year-old man could have received a maximum sentence of 98 years behind bars. But because he pled guilty to the 14 federal drug theft and tampering charges he faced, he will now receive a sentence of 30 to 40 years.

Kwiatkowski has been accused of stealing painkiller syringes from the catheterization lab at New Hampshire’s Exeter Hospital. The hospital worker took syringes containing fentanyl – a drug 100 times more potent than morphine – and injected himself with the painkiller. He then refilled the syringes with saline tainted with his own blood. Kwiatkowski was infected with hepatitis C, and at least 32 patients in the New Hampshire hospital have been diagnosed with the same strain he carries. Additionally, seven patients have been infected with his strain in Maryland, six in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania. One of the patients has died from the infection.

“Kwiatkowski used the stolen syringes to inject himself, causing them to become tainted with his infected blood, before filling them with saline and then replacing them for use in the medical procedure,” the US attorney’s office in Concord, N.H., said in a statement. “Consequently, instead of receiving the prescribed dose of fentanyl, patients instead received saline tainted by Kwiatkowski’s infected blood.”

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that primarily affects the liver and can lead to liver cirrhosis, cancer and death. More than 350,000 people die every year from liver diseases caused by hepatitis C, according to the World Health Organization.

Linda Ficken, a 71-year-old woman from Andover, Kan., is one of Kwiatkowski’s many victims. She told the Associated Press that she is glad he pleaded guilty, but she wishes he would be facing a longer prison sentence.

“It should’ve been life, since he gave us potentially a death sentence,” she said, noting that she is still angry at the system that allowed Kwiatkowski to move from one job to the next, despite facing allegations of drug use and theft.

Kwiatkowski was fired from an Arizona hospital in 2010 after an employee found him passed out in the restroom, next to a toilet that had a syringe floating in it, CNN reports.

“I looked in the toilet and spotted a 5 cc syringe and a needle floating in the water,” the employee said in a statement that was submitted to the Arizona Radiation Regulartory Agency. “The label was a blue fentanyl label… He then said ‘Shit… I am going to jail.’”

The worker was immediately fired from the Arizona Heart Hospital and his license as a radiologic technologist relinquished, but staffing agencies employed him at different hospitals throughout the US. After the incident, he worked in medical facilities in Pennsylvania, Kansas and Georgia before moving to New Hampshire.

The hospital worker said he had been stealing drugs from hospitals since 2002, but that he hadn’t been diagnosed with hepatitis C until 2010. He estimated that he had contaminated syringes in New Hampshire at least 50 times, and guessed that he did so at least 30 times at a hospital in Georgia and 20 times in Kansas. And Kwiatkowski admitted the gravity that his actions hold: he told federal investigators, “I’m going to kill a lot of people out of this… I’m killing a lot of people.”

After his arrest last year, US Attorney John Kacavas called the Michigan native a “serial infector.”

A hearing on the plea agreement is scheduled for Wednesday. If the New Hampshire court accepts the plea deal, Kwiatkowski can avoid federal charges in Kansas, Maryland and Georgia.