‘Patient zero’ testifies as a former nurse sentenced to prison for stealing drugs and infecting patients

SALT LAKE CITY – Five years ago, he went to the emergency room at McKay Dee Hospital for a dislocated shoulder. On Monday he appeared in court to confront the nurse who infected him that day with hepatitis C and now goes to jail.

Identified only as “Patient Zero,” the man described how the disease stigmatized and disrupted his life and that of his family. He said he is subject to embarrassing questions about drug use and sex every time he seeks medical attention. He can no longer donate blood as he did regularly in the past, even for a granddaughter who now has cancer.

“The people he infected are real people. We have real lives, ”he said.

The zero patient was among at least seven people, former nurse Elet Neilson, infected with hepatitis C for a period of two months in 2013 and 2014.

United States District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Neilson, 53, to five years in federal prison after he pleaded guilty last September to two charges of tampering with a consumer product and fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance Prosecutors dropped another six charges as part of a plea agreement.

“This is not a complicated case. It is a sad case, “Benson said, adding that it is a case of unwanted consequences because Neilson does not knowingly infect people with the disease.

A tear Neilson apologized in court for “my selfish and horrible decisions.”

Neilson said he quit drugs after going through a difficult divorce, dealing with back problems and being a single mother of two children, including an autistic son who set the house on fire. She said she had no idea that the tentacles of her “reckless and careless” actions would affect other people.

“My own behavior disgusts me,” he said.

Neilson said the story of patient zero strikes near home because she attends the same neighborhood of Latter-day Saints as her granddaughter. The church, he said, is his only lifeline because “if someone needs forgiveness, it’s me.”

The court documents show that Neilson admitted to injecting painkillers intended for patients before administering the medication while working as an emergency nurse at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden. The hospital fired Neilson after confronting her with evidence that he had taken medication.

Consequently, at least seven people got hepatitis C that Neilson carried, but they didn’t know he had up to nine months after losing his job.

Neilson would put half a vial of pain medication in a syringe for a patient and the other half in a syringe for her, which she took home to use, said her lawyer Adam Bridge. He then took the syringe to work, loaded it with more medications and used it in other patients, who were infected with hepatitis C.

“She recognized that what she did was reckless,” said Bridge.

Prosecutor Sam Pead said Neilson’s explanation is plausible but not credible. He said it’s hard to imagine someone carrying several needles. Neilson always injected himself first, he noted, recognizing that she wouldn’t get sick that way.

“This is more than a mistake,” he said.

Neilson had no intention of hurting anyone, Bridge argued.

“During the last months of his career, he abused opioid pain medications, which he stole from work because they were available. He was not trying to harm patients, spread disease or cause public alarm, “according to Bridge.” Panic and damage nationwide were not on his radar and he was sick when he learned of all the consequences of his actions. “

Pead argued that Neilson caused pain to the patients.

“When this case was investigated, several of the victims reported that they did not receive any analgesic effect of the medication that the defendant administered to them,” according to prosecutor Sam Pead.

Pead argues that it is fair to infer that Neilson did not administer any beneficial amount of medication to these patients and, therefore, caused them bodily injury by allowing them to remain in severe pain.

Neilson also caused serious psychological injuries to many of the victims, as well as substantial financial losses because hepatitis treatment was approximately $ 100,000 per patient, he said.

“The treatments were three months of horror for the victims,” ​​Pead said.

The United States prosecutor, John Huber, said that although the judge discovered that Neilson did not intend to infect people with hepatitis C, but “boy, that’s just a unique, drastic and obscure image” of addiction.

“This case illustrates that addiction does not come without victims. It is not a problem without victims, “he said.” Here you have a very particular circumstance that as a result of this addiction, the lives of these innocent and involuntary victims turned upside down. “

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Dennis Romboy

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