CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Linda Ficken isn’t nervous about confronting the former traveling hospital technician who infected her with hepatitis C. But she is a bit worried about losing her temper.
“I tend to get a little bit irate and mouthy, and when I do that, my vocabulary is like a sailor,” she said. “I don’t mince words.”
Ficken, 71, traveled from Kansas to New Hampshire to speak at a sentencing hearing Monday for David Kwiatkowski, who has admitted stealing painkiller syringes from hospitals where he worked and replacing them with saline-filled syringes tainted with his blood. He pleaded guilty in August to 16 federal drug charges under an agreement that calls for him to spend 30 to 40 years in prison.
“I’m not happy about the sentence he’s going to get,” Ficken said last week, adding that he deserves life in prison. “But maybe the more people are there to voice their opinions, it may sway the judge to give him the maximum.”
Before he was hired by New Hampshire’s Exeter Hospital in 2011, Kwiatkowski worked as a cardiac technologist in 18 hospitals in seven states, moving 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 in four states have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C he carries, including Ficken and five others in Kansas.
Two of the 16 charges Kwiatkowski faces stem from the case of a Kansas patient who has since died. Authorities say hepatitis C, a bloodborne virus that can cause liver disease and chronic health problems, played a contributing role.
Ficken, of Andover, said she has struggled with fatigue since her diagnosis. But the worst blow came two weeks ago, when her brother was diagnosed with leukemia and was told he needs a bone marrow transplant. Siblings are often the best donors, but Ficken hasn’t been tested to see if she would be a match because her hepatitis C infection makes her ineligible.
“I couldn’t handle it if I was the match and couldn’t donate,” she said. “To me, this is more critical than what I’m going through because his situation is immediate.”
In court documents filed last week, prosecutors said Kwiatkowski should spend 40 years in prison because he 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 that a 30-year sentence would better balance the seriousness of the crimes against Kwiatkowski’s mental and emotional problems and his “addictive disease which clouded his awareness of the risk to which he was exposing his patients, as well as himself.”
In all, 32 patients were infected in New Hampshire, seven in Maryland, six in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania. Kwiatkowski, 34, also worked in Michigan, New York, Arizona and Georgia.
In addition to Ficken, another Kansas victim and half a dozen family members will attend Kwiatkowski’s sentencing, said their lawyer, Lynn Johnson.
“They feel it’s important for them to go, that it’s important that they be heard,” said Johnson, who praised the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas for keeping victims well-informed of the investigation and resolution of the criminal case. U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom of Kansas also plans to attend the sentencing.