Purchase photos

Outlook changes after positive test

8/19/2012

By RANDY GONZALES

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Linda Ficken, who had her pacemaker adjusted while she was a patient at Hays Medical Center in 2010, has contracted hepatitis C.

It hasn't been confirmed whether it's the strain of the virus found in David Kwiatkowski, a former contract medical technician at the hospital during that same time period Ficken was a patient. Kwiatkowski was arrested July 19 in New Hampshire and charged with illegally obtaining drugs and tampering with a consumer product. He is accused of stealing drugs from Exeter Hospital in New Hampshire and contaminating syringes that were used on patients, at least 30 of whom have been diagnosed with the same strain of hepatitis C he carries.

Ficken, 70, a retiree from Andover, said she had another test Tuesday that will be sent to Kansas Department of Health and Environment to determine if she has the same hepatitis C strain as Kwiatkowski, who worked in the cardiac catheterization laboratory during his employment at HaysMed. She believes her stay at HaysMed is where she contracted the virus.

"I do know there is no other way I could have contracted this," she said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

Ficken received a letter from HaysMed on July 21, urging her to be tested. That night, she saw a story about Kwiatkowski on a TV newscast.

"That's when it just really hit me; OK, get tested, find out one way or the other," Ficken said. "I was tested on (that following) Tuesday; I was still pretty optimistic.

"That's all changed."

According to KDHE, as of Aug. 9, there were 474 patients at HaysMed, from May 24, 2010, to Sept. 22, 2010, who potentially were exposed. That includes 54 patients who have been identified as deceased since from various causes.

There were 334 patients tested as of Aug. 9, with 311 negative results. There were two positive results for a hepatitis C strain closely related to the cluster of patients in New Hampshire.

For the remaining patients who have submitted blood specimens, either they still are being processed or have not completed epidemiologic review, KDHE said.

As of Friday afternoon, KDHE had not released updated test results.

"Any individuals identified for testing who have not been tested through the process established by HaysMed and KDHE are receiving follow-up calls from HaysMed," Shae Veach, vice-president of regional operations at HaysMed, said in an email Friday afternoon. "We are encouraging everyone to get tested through our process. If they have been tested but went through their primary care physician, we are working to gather those results and ensure KDHE has them, as well as looking at whether additional testing is needed to determine if a patient's strain is closely related to the cluster in New Hampshire."

Ficken expressed frustration about how Kwiatkowski, 32, seemed to slip through the cracks of bureaucracy, working from one hospital to another, before finally being arrested. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne viral infection that can cause liver damage and chronic health problems.

"You're talking about people's lives," she said. "Do something about him."

Ficken said it hasn't been easy for her and her family since she learned she had hepatitis C. Making it worse is thinking about Kwiatkowski.

"It's getting tougher all the time," she said. "I think a lot of it is because I am realizing the legal fight that is going to ensue from this, and the lawyers trying to get this joker off."

Ficken is feeling none too kindly toward Kwiatkowski.

"At first, my thought was the guy needs help," she said. "But now, I'd like to help him, I'd very much like to help him -- I can fight dirty, too.

"I think he needs to get taken out of society for the rest of his life."