By HOLLY RAMER
CONCORD, N.H. -- A traveling medical technician was sentenced Monday to 39 years in prison for stealing painkillers and infecting dozens of patients in four states with hepatitis C through tainted syringes.
"I don't blame the families for hating me," David Kwiatkowski said after hearing approximately 20 statements from people he infected and their relatives. "I hate myself."
Kwiatkowski, 34, was a cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states -- including Hays Medical Center -- before being hired at New Hampshire's Exeter Hospital in 2011. He moved from job to job despite being fired at least four times over allegations of drug use and theft. Since his arrest last year, 46 people have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C he carries.
Kwiatkowski admitted stealing painkillers and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood. He pleaded guilty in August to 16 federal drug charges.
Before he was sentenced by Judge Joseph LaPlante, Kwiatkowski said he was sorry for what he had done. He said his crime was caused by an addiction to painkillers and alcohol.
The victims spoke angrily and tearfully of the pain Kwiatkowski had inflicted upon them.
Linda Ficken, 71, Andover, was one of two Kansas victims to attend the sentencing hearing. She underwent a cardiac catheterization at HaysMed in 2010 and said she is haunted by the memory of Kwiatkowski standing at her bedside for more than an hour, applying pressure to the catheter's entry site in her leg to control a bleeding problem.
"On one hand, you were saving my life, and on the other hand, your acts are a death sentence for me," she told him Monday. "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?"
Lynwood Nelson, who was infected when he went in for a procedure at the Baltimore VA Medical Center in 2012, said Kwiatkowski "should receive the same punishment he gave us: the death penalty."
Prosecutors pushed for a 40-year prison sentence, saying Kwiatkowski created a "national public health crisis," put a significant number of people at risk and caused substantial physical and emotional harm to a large number of victims.
Defense lawyers argued a 30-year sentence would better balance the seriousness of the crimes against Kwiatkowski's mental and emotional problems and his addiction to drugs and alcohol, which they said clouded his judgment.
In all, 32 patients were infected in New Hampshire, seven in Maryland, six in Kansas at HaysMed and one in Pennsylvania. Kwiatkowski also worked in Michigan, New York, Arizona and Georgia.
Two of the 16 charges stem from the case of a Kansas patient who since has died. Authorities said hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that can cause liver disease and chronic health problems, played a contributing role.
Kwiatkowski worked in the catheterization lab at HaysMed from May 24 to September 22, 2010.
HaysMed and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment began testing patients when they first learned of their possible exposure in July 2012. According to updated statistics released by KDHE, 474 patents at HaysMed were determined to be potentially exposed. Of that number, 60 were deceased at time of notification, leaving 414 patients potentially available for testing. There were 396 patients tested, with six found to have a strain of hepatitis C related to the outbreak.
Ficken told the Associated Press last week that while she has struggled with fatigue since her diagnosis, a bigger blow came last month when her brother was diagnosed with leukemia and was told he needs a stem cell transplant. While siblings often are the closest match, she can't donate because of her hepatitis C status.