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Federal plea deal in NH details hepatitis C pains

Federal plea deal in NH details hepatitis C pains

August 14th, 2013 in News

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - One man infected with hepatitis C hasn't been able to return to work. Another won't kiss his wife on the lips even though the blood-borne virus can't be spread that way. A woman struggles with stress and fatigue. Another worries about exposing her grandchild.

All are among the dozens of patients former hospital technician David Kwiatkowski is accused of infecting with the disease, and they were prepared to testify against him at trial.

Instead, Kwiatkowski is scheduled to plead guilty Wednesday to 14 federal drug charges in New Hampshire in exchange for 30 to 40 years in prison. He will be sentenced later, probably in November, U.S. Attorney John Kacavas said Tuesday.

Kwiatkowski has been jailed since his arrest in July 2012. His lawyers did not respond to email messages or calls seeking comment Monday or Tuesday.

Originally from Michigan, Kwiatkowski worked in 18 hospitals in seven states before being hired in New Hampshire in 2011. A traveling hospital technician, he was assigned by staffing agencies to fill temporary openings around the country. Along the way, he contracted hepatitis C.

According to the plea agreement filed Monday, Kwiatkowski told investigators he had been stealing drugs for more than a decade and his actions were "killing a lot of people."

He wasn't charged directly in anyone's death, but the plea agreement says his actions played a "contributing role" in one person's death. Hepatitis C can cause liver disease and chronic health issues.

Instead, Kwiatkowski is accused of stealing painkiller syringes from Exeter Hospital's cardiac catheterization lab and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood.

Forty-six people in four states in hospitals where Kwiatkowski worked have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C he carries: 32 patients in New Hampshire; seven in Maryland, six in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania. One of the Kansas patients died.

With his plea, Kwiatkowski will avoid criminal charges pertaining to patients outside New Hampshire. At least two dozen civil lawsuits related to his case are pending, most of them against Exeter Hospital.

In New Hampshire, several of the patients have experienced serious health complications, according to the agreement.

Though the patients aren't identified by name, the agreement describes the seven whose experiences formed the basis of the criminal charges. The five men and two women range in age from the 40s to the 80s.

One remembers getting two doses of the painkiller fentanyl but not feeling much differently afterward. He now has trouble controlling his diabetes and sleeping through the night and is no longer able to travel for his job.

Another patient had to delay surgery because of liver problems caused by hepatitis C and has seen his health deteriorate. A Navy veteran in his 80s has suffered significant fatigue, and his wife says he is so afraid of transmitting the disease that he refuses to kiss her on the lips.

One of the infected women has sought mental health counseling to help her deal with the uncertainty of her diagnosis, and another is fearful of exposing her grandchild to the virus.

A man in his 50s hasn't returned to work since developing hepatitis C. He remembers interacting with Kwiatkowski during his procedure, and recalls Kwiatkowski was sweating profusely.