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Federal plea deal in N.H. details hepatitis C pains

FILE  - 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., Hospital. Kwiatkowski, accused of infecting dozens of patients with hepatitis C through tainted needles, told investigators he had been stealing drugs for more than a decade and was "killing a lot of people," according to a plea agreement filed Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, that would send him to prison for 30 to 40 years. (AP Photo/U.S. Attorney's Office, File)

FILE - 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., Hospital. Kwiatkowski, accused of infecting dozens of patients with hepatitis C through tainted needles, told investigators he had been stealing drugs for more than a decade and was "killing a lot of people," according to a plea agreement filed Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, that would send him to prison for 30 to 40 years. (AP Photo/U.S. Attorney's Office, File)

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 today 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 yesterday.

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

Originally from Michigan, Kwiatkowski worked in 18 hospitals in seven states before being hired in Exeter in 2011. A traveling hospital technician, he was assigned by staffing agencies to fill temporary openings across 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 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 40 to in their 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 said 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 that Kwiatkowski was sweating profusely.

Of the seven patients, Kwiatkowski was assigned to assist with only two of their procedures. In four of the other cases, he was on duty but not assigned to the patients. In the remaining case, he came in on his day off and insisted on staying even though he was told he could go home, according to court documents.

The documents also shed new light on Kwiatkowski’s early work history, before he left his home state of Michigan to become a traveling technician.

He told investigators he had been stealing drugs since about 2002, the year before he completed a training program in radiologic technology at Michigan’s William Beaumont Hospital. He was fired from that hospital in 2004 for “gross misconduct,” according to the plea agreement. He also was fired from another Michigan hospital that same year and resigned from two others in 2006 while under investigation for drug allegations.

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