More than a year and a half after an outbreak of Hepatitis C at Exeter Hospital first emerged, a traveling medical technician has been sentenced to nearly four decades in federal prison.
David Kwiatkowski, his hair trimmed short, looked heavier than at his last court appearance in August, when he pleaded guilty to 16 federal charges.
For nearly a decade, the defendant admits he routinely stole syringes of powerful pain medication. He would inject himself, and then reuse those needles on patients.
In total, 45 people were infected, including 32 at Exeter Hospital. Nationally, more than 12,000 patients were recommended for testing.
“I understand that no term of incarceration can restore them to their former health,” says U.S. Attorney John Kacavas. “No sentence of incarceration can take away their insecurity or undo the bewildering unfairness of what has happened to them. But I hope--I fervently hope--that bringing this defendant to swift and certain justice gives them some peace of mind as they confront the uncertainty of life with Hepatitis C."
Inside a packed courtroom, the defendant made eye contact with some of the victims as they read tearful letters detailing lives upended by Hepatitis C.
Kwiatkowski then stood and apologized, saying, “Words are not enough to explain the anguish I feel. I understand your hatred. I hate myself.”
Outside the court, defense attorney Jonathan Saxe says the crimes were the end result of a 15 year drug and alcohol addiction.
“When he was doing this, he was not himself,” says Saxe. “He was a drug addict that didn’t have the capacity to feel. The sad thing is, now he has it. But now he’s kind of destroyed his life.”
Judge Joseph LaPlante sentenced Kwiatkowski to one year less than the maximum laid out in a plea agreement.
He says he took that year off the prison term not as a reward, but as a reminder that people have the capacity for compassion. He told Kwaitkowski to try to remember that capacity in himself.
Many of the victims wanted a harsher punishment. Kathleen Murray’s 94-year old mother contracted the virus during a heart valve replacement surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
She called Kwiatkowski a serial killer who preyed on the most vulnerable among us.
“It’s the best they could get,” says Murray. “Life in prison wouldn’t have been enough, but that is the best you can do. I am satisfied. I especially like that he gave him one year back. It showed that we really are not like him.”
Kacavas says a lack of regulation and national standards allowed the defendant to move from state-to-state.
He landed short-term contracts through medical staffing firms, even after being fired at least four times for suspicion of drug use. Kacavas hopes that hospitals will treat drug diversion not as a personnel matter, but as the crime it is.
“And that crime must be reported to law enforcement. Had the crime been reported to law enforcement, this serial infector would not have reached Kansas. He wouldn’t have reached Baltimore. He wouldn’t have reached New Hampshire.”
Kwiatkowksi will spend the next 39 years in a federal prison in Michigan, where he grew up.
He is not eligible for parole.