David Kwiatkowski, a traveling medical technician, was sentenced to 39 years in prison on Monday for stealing painkillers and infecting dozens of patients with hepatitis C.
The 34-year-old was a cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states, changing jobs despite allegations of drug use and theft. In 2011, he was hired at New Hampshire's Exeter Hospital, where he intentionally infected 32 patients, the Associated Press reports.
While it’s unclear how many patients he infected with hepatitis C, there are at least 45 patients in all that have been infected with the blood-borne illness. Seven were infected in Maryland, six in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania. One patient died from the illness.
Kwiatkowski was a former college basketball player from Michigan who later became a radiology technician. Prosecutors say Kwiatkowski knew he had hepatitis C and stole painkillers in a way to spread the disease to patients undergoing heart procedures. To do so, Kwiatkowski would take syringes loaded with the painkiller fentanyl meant for patients and replace them with old syringes he had previously used to inject himself. He began pilfering drugs in 2002, when he and a co-worker stole morphine from a Michigan emergency room, Kwiatkowski admitted. He learned he had hepatitis C in 2010.
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After working in almost 20 hospitals, Kwiatkowski’s scheme came to an end when New Hampshire health officials noticed an unusual increase in the number of patients who had the incurable virus that damages the liver. After blood samples were analyzed from infected patients, investigators found they had the same strain as that of Kwiatkowski, the Boston Globe reports.
Kwiatkowski was arrested in 2012 and pled guilty in August to 16 federal charges. Before his sentence, Kwiatkowski apologized and said his actions were caused by a painkiller addiction and alcoholism.
Prosecutors argue that Kwiatkowski created a "national public health crisis," where more than 12,000 people had to be tested from his actions. The state of New Hampshire alone spent $384,000 on the public health crisis he created, according to court documents.
Hepatitis C, an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver, is usually transmitted through contact with infected blood. About 85 percent of those infected contract chronic hepatitis C, which leads to chronic liver disease.
Jean Burke, whose 63-year-old husband, Richard, was infected, spoke at Kwiatkowski’s sentencing. “Becoming a junkie and an alcoholic somehow robbed you of your humanity and your regard for the people you were treating,” she said. “Now that you’re sober, we’re here to remind you that the people that you affected are real. We are not faceless statistics.”
“I don’t blame the families for hating me,” Kwiatkowski said after hearing about 20 statements from people he infected and their relatives. “I hate myself.”