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Medical worker gets 39 years for infecting dozens with hepatitis

December 3rd, 2013 1:05 pm by By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Medical worker gets 39 years for infecting dozens with hepatitis

This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Hampshire shows David Kwiatkowski, a former lab technician at Exeter, N.H. (AP Photo/U.S. Attorney's Office/FILE)

A drug-addicted medical technician has been sentenced to 39 years in federal prison for infecting dozens of patients with hepatitis C while working at hospitals in several states.

David M. Kwiatkowski, 34, had worked at medical facilities in New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Arizona, Kansas, Georgia and New Hampshire as of 2007.

In 2010, he learned that he had hepatitis C, a potentially lethal viral disease that can seriously damage the liver in some patients. He also claimed to have Crohn's disease, a digestive ailment.

According to court documents, by 2012 he was drinking a fifth of vodka a day in addition to downing at least 80 mg of OxyContin. That was when he couldn't get his drug of choice, a powerful anesthetic known as fentanyl.

According to officials, Kwiatkowski devised a plan to steal fentanyl from the hospitals where he worked by stealing syringes intended for patients.

Prosecutors said he would inject himself with the drug, refill the syringes with saline, then return the syringes tainted with his hepatitis-C-infected blood.

A public-health investigation linked Kwiatkowski's strain of hepatitis to 32 patients at Exeter Hospital in Exeter, N.H.; six patients at Hays Medical Center in Hays, Kan.; six patients from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Md.; and one patient from the VA Medical Center in Baltimore.

An outbreak was first detected in May 2012, ultimately triggering the investigation that led to Kwiatkowski's arrest two months later.

Some of Kwiatkowski's victims said they had lost their jobs, suffered from nausea and feared infecting their loved ones.

"It is not surprising that all of these people are requesting that he be sentenced to the longest sentence permitted by the plea agreement," Kwiatkowski's defense noted in a sentencing memo.

Defense attorneys asked for a sentence of 30 years after Kwiatkowski pleaded guilty to eight counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud and eight counts of tampering with a consumer product in August.

Prosecutors asked for 40 years.

He was sentenced Monday to 39 years in prison in federal court in Concord, N.H. U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Laplante said he cut the last year as a reminder that some people have the capacity for mercy and compassion.

"It's important for you to recognize and remember as you spend the next 39 years in prison to focus on the one year you didn't get and try to develop that capacity in yourself," Laplante said, according to the Associated Press.

After Kwiatkowski heard court statements from about 20 victims, the Associated Press reported, he said, "I don't blame the families for hating me. I hate myself."
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