A traveling hospital worker was sentenced to 39 years in prison on Monday after stealing painkillers from the facilities he worked at and infecting patients in four states with hepatitis C through contaminated syringes.
"I don't blame the families for hating me," David Kwiatkowski told The Associated Press after hearing about 20 statements from people he infected and their relatives. "I hate myself."
Kwiatkowski, 34, worked as a cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states before finding a job at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire in 2011. He pleaded guilty to 16 federal drug charges in August.
Kwiatkowski admitted that he stole painkillers and replaced them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood, blaming his crimes on addiction to painkiller and alcohol. At least 46 people have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C since his arrest last year.
According to Reuters, hepatitis C is transferred through blood-to-blood contact or by unsanitary hospital equipment. It mainly affects the liver and leads to cirrhosis, which can then develop into liver failure, cancer and other life-threatening problems.
Kwiatkowski began stealing drugs in 2002, according to his plea agreement filed in August.
Thirty-two people in New Hampshire have been infected, seven in Maryland, six in Kansas, and one in Pennsylvania. One of the patients in Kansas has died due to symptoms from the disease worsening pre-existing conditions.
"There's no excuse for what I've done," he said. "I know the pain and suffering I have caused."
New Hampshire prosecutors pushed judge Joseph LaPlante for a 40-year sentence, saying Kwiatkowski caused a “national health crisis,” but the judge said he took away one year to prove mercy and compassion still exists.
One of the patients to address Kwiatkowski in court was Linda Ficken, 71, who underwent a cardiac procedure in 2010. She is still haunted by the memory of Kwiatkowski standing over her hospital bed applying pressure to a catheter’s entry point to control 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 AP 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, Ficken can’t do so because of her hepatitis C status.