The Daily News
BULLHEAD CITY — A man who tested positive for hepatitis C after being treated by a local clinic is speaking out about his ordeal.
“I was devastated and angry at the same time,” said the 43-year-old former patient at the Ear & Sinus Center of the Southwest in Bullhead City,. His name has been withheld at the request of the his attorneys
“My question for the clinic is why did it take so long to notify me and others of this possible outbreak,” he said, referring to the two letters he received — one from an administrator and another from a physician — in a span of five days in November. “I feel like I’ve been done wrong by him and all who were involved.”
Since being diagnosed with hepatitis C last month, the victim is beginning to experience symptoms from the disease, which in turn is hampering him from everyday life activities.
“I have burning sensations now
and fatigue. It’s not right that I have been given this life sentence when all I did was go to that doctor for help,” he said. “It even affects my caring for my elderly mom because I have to be so overly cautious to make sure it does not get transmitted to her.”
From January to March of 2012, the man had been seen by Dr. Terrance Kwiatkowski of the Ear & Sinus Center of the Southwest for a deviated septum. During those months, the patient was treated for his medical condition by undergoing an endoscopy, which is performed by using an instrument to see inside the nasal passages, sinuses and upper larynx.
According to a letter signed by Joe Ketterer, practice administrator for the clinic, provided by the patient to the Mohave Daily News, the patient received the letter “because the health and wellbeing was important to everyone at the practice.”
The letter stated it being issued to inform him about an ENT endoscope and the possibility that the office may not have followed every step in properly sterilizing and disinfecting the instrument prior to moving on to the next
Ketterer also wrote that the patient had a very low risk of contracting the disease, based on the review with a leading physician expert in the field of infectious diseases.
“It was no low risk. When I got that letter and I tested, it showed right away I contracted hepatitis C,” the man said. “The first time I tested it was 1.4 and two weeks later it rose to 1.6.”
In a letter signed by Kwiatkowski, he states that he was informed by the Bullhead City Clinic Corporation, owner of the Ear & Sinus Center, that the methods implemented by BCCC for cleaning scopes may have been deficient and that a letter from BCCC would also be notifying him regarding the situation.
Kwiatkowski added to the letter a personal note, which read, “I am writing you separately to you, my patient, because your health and welfare is of my utmost concern in this matter. I understand that learning of this issue is likely upsetting to you, as it certainly is to me. I am also disappointed, because, as a physician employee of BCCC, I had no reason to believe that the policies established by BCCC regarding the appropriate cleaning of scopes utilized in my professional practice would become an issue that my have inadvertently put my patients at even the most minimal amount of risk. It has been, and remains my goal to provide quality patient care.”
The letter states that upon realizing the potential deficiency, BCCC updated its scope processing techniques over the past several months to be in compliance with current standards.
The patient, on the other hand, had a different stance on the issue.
“As for the cleansing process, I witnessed first-hand the wrongdoing of the clinic, but thought the way the employees did everything was procedure,” he alleges. “They took the instrument from me and wiped it off then proceeded to the next room where another patient was waiting. The door was open and I could see them set the instrument on the table stand then the doctor would go in there to start the procedure.
“If I had known this was not the way it should have been I would have definitely spoke up about it,” he said. “My worries now aren’t only about me, but for the other patients treated who live out of state or even the country.”
The patient also said he received the hepatitis testing by a lab not affiliated with BCCC or its parent company, Community Health Systems, which also owns Western Arizona Regional Medical Center.
“I wanted to make sure that my results weren’t compromised and they were accurate,” he said.
“These patients should be able to have the chance to have the testing done at their preferred lab, not one designated by the same corporation/clinic having the possible outbreak,” said Jim Abernethy, a Phoenix-based attorney representing the Bullhead City victim. “I am sure the pricing isn’t going to be much different where it’s done.”
“How can you not be worried about how that procedure will be handled when your already experiencing this,” added Gerald Gillock, the Las Vegas-based attorney who will be assisting with the case.
“Our next step in this case will be compiling all of his medical records for review and having them evaluated to take steps within the court system to protect the medical documentation and to make sure all the records stay intact,” said Gillock. “It’s small steps, but (we) are looking to file a complaint here in the next couple weeks.”
One such claim, concerning another Bullhead City patient, already has been filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, alleging negligence by BCCC and its staff. She, too, tested positive after receiving a letter of notification from the clinic.
Calls to the Mohave County Health Department were forwarded to the Arizona Department ofHealth Services
According to Shoana Anderson, deputy bureau chief of epidemiology and disease control, the state health department became involved at the request of the Mohave County facility, which was informed by the BCCC of a possible infectious disease outbreak.
“We were not personally involved with mailing the letters to the patients,” said Anderson, referring to the nearly 500 letters sent out in November of last year. “Our department was notified by Mohave County after they were contacted by BCCC about the situation and they became aware of it during some type of evaluation of equipment procedures.”
Anderson said during a telephone interview that possible infected patients dated back to 2009, but had yet to be confirmed.
“We also are not 100 percent how the outbreak happened. It’s currently being investigated by our agency,” she said.
That investigation comes as little solace to the Bullhead City man.
“This should have never happened to me or any of the other patients had the clinic and doctor used the necessary steps to prevent it,” he said.