A 65-year-old Baltimore man was infected with hepatitis C by a traveling medical technician at the Baltimore VA Medical Center in 2008, he and his attorney said — making him the first Marylander to come forward in a sweeping investigation into the technician's interactions with thousands of patients in several states.
"I'm hopeful I'll be able to continue my busy life, but I'm also worried about the ones I care for," said Linwood Nelson, a Vietnam War veteran from Edmondson Village who cares for a sister with Alzheimer's disease, among others. "Getting the news was sort of devastating. My life flashed before me."
Nelson said the hospital, which first contacted him about getting tested for hepatitis C last month, has since taken full responsibility for the fact that he was likely infected with the disease during one of two catheterization procedures he underwent for a kidney stone removal and a lung scan in May and September 2008.
During both procedures, David Matthew Kwiatkowski, a contract radiographer hired by the hospital through a staffing agency, was part of the medical team, said Nelson's attorney, Michael Rainboth, of New Hampshire.
Kwiatkowski was arrested in New Hampshire in July after authorities said he stole and used narcotics-filled syringes on himself that he then left for other hospital staff members to unknowingly use on patients.
Kwiatkowski's arrest caused a string of hospitals where he had previously worked to launch investigations involving thousands of patients and to notify many that they should be tested for hepatitis C, a blood-borne viral infection that can cause liver damage and lead to chronic health problems.
In Maryland, four hospitals announced they were offering free testing to at least 1,750 patients. Kwiatkowski worked at the Baltimore VA Medical Center from May to November 2008; Southern Maryland Hospital from December 2008 to February 2009; Johns Hopkins Hospital from July 2009 to January 2010; and Maryland General Hospital from January to March 2010.
The Baltimore VA Medical Center, which did not return calls for comment, has previously said 168 patients had procedures that involved Kwiatkowski, that follow-up testing has been conducted on nearly 120, and that the rest have been contacted by phone. Results would only be reported directly to patients, the hospital said.
Before Nelson came forward, investigators had said the earliest evidence of Kwiatkowski being infected was from June 2010, after his time in Maryland. But Nelson's claim has Kwiatkowski infected as early as May 2008, said Rainboth, who also represents five patients allegedly infected by Kwiatkowski at Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire.
"That's the shocking thing to me," Rainboth said. "If I lived in Baltimore, Maryland, I'd be like, 'Oh my God, we thought this only went back to 2010.'"
Nelson said hospital officials first gave him a federal form that people filing a claim with a federal entity, which the hospital is, must complete. Not knowing how much money he should claim, he talked to the officials again and they suggested he get a lawyer.
Rainboth is now helping with the process, and said the federal government will have six months to determine how to respond.
Nelson said he isn't angry with being infected, and has otherwise received great medical care at Baltimore VA Medical Center. But "somebody dropped the ball" by letting Kwiatkowski do what he allegedly did, he said.
"It's scary," he said. "When you're sick and somebody is there to help you, you don't question that."
Nelson said he worries the hepatitis treatment will make him sick and is considering not accepting treatment because he already has emphysema and has been living for four years since his infection without problems.
He also worries he will get a scratch or cut himself shaving, start bleeding and expose his girlfriend, his five sons or 14 grandchildren to the disease, he said.
"It's life-changing, because now I have to be careful with every aspect of my life," he said.
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