Family Worries Dix Hills Doctor Played a Role in Man’s Death from Hepatitis C

The family of a man who died from hepatitis C has been left to wonder if <"">medical malpractice committed by Dr. Harvey Finkelstein played a role in his death.  Finkelstein is the Dix Hills doctor who exposed patients-infecting at least one with hepatitis C-to blood-borne pathogen infections because of his practice of reusing syringes.  Finkelstein, an anesthesiologist since 1981whose patient base reaches into the thousands, continues to practice at the Pain Care Center of Long Island and has admitting privileges at the New Island Hospital in Bethpage, the North Shore University Hospital in Plainview, and the Long Island SurgiCenter in Melville.  Six of Finkelstein’s patients tested positive for hepatitis B and six for hepatitis C, according to the Nassau County Health Department.

Hepatitis C and B are both forms of viral hepatitis transmitted by infected blood, C causes chronic liver disease and B causes fever, disability, and jaundice.  HIV is a retrovirus leading to AIDS and also transmitted by blood.  Full-blown AIDS is invariably fatal.

The state urged Finkelstein’s patients to get tested for exposure to blood-borne diseases due to the doctor’s reuse of syringes, but it took the state Department of Health three years to notify the public of the potential exposure to blood-borne diseases as a result of Finkelstein’s shoddy practices.

Peter Cicero visited Finkelstein in 2000 to relieve chronic back pain, suffered from paralysis as a result of a botched procedure, and died from complications as a result of hepatitis C in 2005.   His family remains unclear about how Cicero contracted hepatitis and is closely following the investigation.  According to court papers, Cicero’s filed a malpractice suit against Finkelstein that settled in 2004.  Cicero received a $975,000 settlement after a spinal procedure by Finkelstein left him partially paralyzed.  Cicero was an artist and landscaper who lived in East Hampton and spent his final years in constant pain, his family said.  His right hand became useless and his right eye drooped, according to the suit.  His symptoms worsened and Cicero moved back with his parents in 2002.  Dr. Mark Kaplan, a physician of Cicero’s, diagnosed him with hepatitis C in 2003; his 2005 death certificate lists “hepatitis C cirrhosis” as cause of death.

While health officials argue that the chance of contracting hepatitis C through a reused syringe is very small, they have confirmed at least one case of hepatitis C transmission through Finkelstein’s practice. Referring to Cicero’s paralysis after the injection for back pain, Kaplan, who treated Cicero until his death has said that he hopes measures will be taken to safeguard other patients who have suffered similar tragedy.  Kaplan considered the possibility that Cicero might have contracted hepatitis through the spinal procedure as he had did not have the disease prior and it was presumed that the same needles that injured his spinal cord might have given him the disease.  Kaplan confirmed that before Cicero suffered his catastrophic spinal cord injury, his hepatitis C tests were negative.

Without answers, the family hopes that the state investigation will result in stricter infection control standards for doctors and stiff penalties for Finkelstein.  The state has asked all of Finkelstein’s patients from 1994 to January 2005 to get tested for hepatitis and HIV.

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