Pregnant mom with hepatitis C must wait for treatment after exposure at McKay Dee Hospital
Salt Lake City —
(KUTV) "I'm angry at the hospital for not preventing all of this."
A young mother about to give birth spoke out about how she contracted a rare strain of Hepatitis C at McKay Dee hospital.
The young woman's case is one of 16 confirmed by The Center for Disease Control from exposure at McKay Dee and Davis Medical Centers.
The CDC said up to 7,200 people could have been exposed to the infection. The Utah State Health Department has said a healthcare provider, who worked in the emergency department at both hospitals, was stealing medications for her own use. They won't say exactly how the disease was spread.
The woman who spoke to KUTV did not want to use her name, she was exposed to hepatitis C in 2014. She cannot start treatment until after she gives birth to her baby boy in June.
She was four-months pregnant when she was notified of her possible exposure in the McKay Dee emergency room a year prior.
She sought legal help after her diagnosis. She says she heard about the possible outbreak when thousands of letters were sent out to possibly infected patients. She says she never received a letter and felt bad for the people involved when she heard about it on the news. A month or two after the outbreak was announced, she says she received a call from McKay Dee Hospital and was told she could come in for free testing.
They young mom got the test a couple days later, and received the call with results when she was at a fair at her daughter's school. She walked out of the room and started sobbing.
"It is terrifying to think you have a child inside of you."
Due in June, this young mother says she never would have thought about having a baby if she knew she was infected with hepatitis C.
Her attorney, Thaddeus Wendt, says it has been hard explaining why she didn't want to user her name or face.
"Just the stigma -- it is obviously a disease usually passed on by drug addicts that use needles for sexually transmitted."
She's seeking legal advice from the law firm Feller & Wendt, LLC. as she navigates FBI interviews and state investigations, including a DOPL case, that will start hearings in June.
Her nightmare started in the fall of 2015 when she went to the emergency room.
"I was having pain in my lower stomach and found out it was an ovarian cyst."
She was at McKay Dee hospital for several hours where she was treated with painkillers including a shot in the hip and an IV.
"I specifically remember the nurse," Elet Neilson, now charged with drug diversion. The nurse is accused of stealing drugs from the hospital and passing along hepatitis C to patients cared for her that day.
"She just had a bad attitude and that she talk to me -- I felt disrespected."
Upset, she wanted to complain about her care -- but didn't. She went home to recuperate but never got back to feeling like her old self.
"I was tired all of the time, drained; always had an upset stomach." Those are symptoms of hepatitis C, though she wasn't diagnosed for more than a year after the symptoms and exposure.
"I was a lot sicker with this baby, my blood pressure is high with this one, my liver enzymes are higher than normal."
She can't be treated for for the disease until the baby is born, but her biggest concern right now, is not her own health.
"I'm always concerned about everything I do. You can't kiss your kids on the lips. You can't leave your cup sitting around share drinks with your kids." She has two young daughters at home, and a baby boy on the way.
Her biggest are concerns are with her baby and if he could be exposed at birth and if she breastfeeds.
"If your nipples were to get chapped and you're breast-feeding, obviously the blood can get into their system that way." She isn't planning to breastfeed and "it is very hard, it is upsetting; it is a bond that should be made with your kids."
She's engaged and planning a wedding, but looking further down the road there are more concerns.
"You never know if in 20 or 30 years, it will come back full force and I will lose my life to it."
Concerned that her 7-year-old daughter may have been exposed when she would sneak and use her toothbrush, the woman asked the hospital if it could also test her oldest daughter. The hospital refused to pay for the testing and said it was highly unlikely the child would have contracted the disease. The mom used her own insurance to pay for the test which came back negative.
The new baby will need hepatitis C testing for the first two years of his life.
The young mother is working with Wendt and his law firm, but doesn't yet know what legal action she will take. She would like to see Nielson charged with more than the misdemeanor she received in district court.
Federal charges are still possible, and the hospitals involved are facing class action lawsuits.
Follow Heidi Hatch on Twitter @tvheidihatch for breaking news, updates and more.