A New Hampshire hospital worker has been sentenced to 39 years in prison after stealing syringes from the facilities he worked at, injecting his own blood, and infecting dozens of patients across four states with hepatitis C.
David Kwiatkowski, a 34-year-old former medical technician, was sentenced on Monday, months after pleading guilty to federal drug charges on August 16. He worked as a cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals across seven states before finding a job at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire in 2011.
Kwiatkowski has confessed to filling syringes with his own tainted blood, blaming the crimes on clouded judgment stemming from an addiction to alcohol and painkillers. At least 46 people were discovered to be carrying Kwiatkowski’s strain of hepatitis C since his arrest.
“I don’t blame the families for hating me,” he told the court Monday after listening to testimony from victims and their families. “I hate myself.”
Hepatitis C is primarily transferred through blood-to-blood contact or by insanitary hospital equipment. The disease primarily affects the liver and can lead to cirrhosis, which can then develop into liver failure, liver cancer, and a number of other life-threatening conditions.
According to Kwiatkowski’s plea agreement filed in August he began stealing drugs in 2002, before leaving medical school, and is responsible for “killing a lot of people.”
Over 20 individuals in New Hampshire have been infected, seven in Maryland, six in Kansas, and one in Pennsylvania. One of the patients in Kansas has since died and authorities said the symptoms from hepatitis C markedly worsened already existing conditions.
“There is no excuse for what I have done,” Kwiatkowski said. “I know the pain and suffering I have caused.”
New Hampshire prosecutors, saying Kwiatkowski caused a “national health crisis,” pushed judge Joseph LaPlante to hand down a 40-year sentence, but the judge said he shaved off one year to prove the potential for compassion always exists.
“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, as quoted by the Associated Press.
One of the patients who addressed Kwiatkowski in court was a 71-year-old Kansas woman named Linda Ficken. She said she underwent a cardiac procedure in 2010 and is still tormented by the memory of Kwiatkowski standing over her hospital bed applying pressure to a catheter’s entry point in an attempt to stop her bleeding.
“On one hand, you were saving my life, and on the other hand, your acts are a death sentence for me,” she said. “Do I thank you for what you did to help me? Do I despise you for what your actions did and will continue to do for the rest of my life? Or do I simply just feel sorry for you being the pathetic individual you are?”
Ficken told reporters her brother was recently diagnosed with leukemia and is in need of a blood transplant. While siblings are often the closest match for a blood donation and therefore the best option, Ficken is excluded as a donor because of her hepatitis C status.