A Maryland medical technician who traveled to various hospitals in the state and around the country has been sentenced to 39 years in prison for knowingly spreading hepatitis C to patients. 45 former patients have been infected, and the victims along with their families are looking for closure.
34 year old David Kwiatkowski, a contract medical technician who worked at several Maryland hospitals between 2008 to 2010, injected himself with painkillers and then filled the syringes with saline solution. The used needles were put back in place for use on patients. Kwiatkowski was aware that he had hepatitis C when he did this on several occasions. He also lied about his drug and alcohol use to officials. He claims that his addiction to painkillers led him to behave recklessly. Kwiatkowski expressed sorrow at his actions, saying he got into healthcare because he wanted to help people, but addiction took that all away. He pled guilty to tampering and fraud.
After the outbreak was discovered, hospitals that Kwiatkowski had worked at from New Hampshire to New York to Arizona began testing hundreds of patients. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending testing 12,000 individuals on a national level.
Warning Signs Ignored
There were a few opportunities that could have prevented the outbreak from happening. Medical administrators are also now looking at how policy changes could help keep something like this from happening again. Staff members at one hospital suspected Kwiatkowski of stealing painkillers, but their concerns were disregarded when a manager gave Kwiatkowski a positive reference for a position at another hospital. Medical staff applicants were also required to self report any criminal history, instead of being verified by a background check. Kwiatkowski failed to disclose an arrest for a DWI and a few other incidents. Officials are looking at ways to improve at risk areas in the medical staffing system. It’s a collection of vulnerable areas in the system, rather than one large issue, that is to blame for this terrible incident.
How Victims Are Trying To Cope
Former patients who contracted hepatitis through infected syringes say the Kwiatkowski’s sentence does help bring them closure, but little relief as they struggle to cope with living hepatitis C positive. One elderly patient says his trust in medical professionals has been broken. Another says living with the infection has begun tearing his family apart, because he fears coming into contact with his loved ones. Many of the victims have worked through some of their anger and say they are just glad that Kwiatkowski can no longer to infect others.
An Infectious Disease
Hepatitis C is spread through blood to blood contact and affects the liver. The disease can be spread through intravenous means, blood transfusions, or unsafe medical practices. The disease is mostly contracted through infected needles for drug use and tattooing with equipment that has not been sterilized. Infection via blood transfusions has become much less common since new, stricter screening procedures were put into place in the U.S. and Canada in the early 1990’s.
Those who have hepatitis C usually are not aware that they are infected until years later when symptoms of liver damage begin to arise. By that point it’s often too late and irreversible damage to the liver has been done. If you’re at risk of contracting hepatitis C, get tested and take the proper precautions when dealing with situations that may potentially expose you to infection.