NJ dentist suspended after 15 patients get heart infections
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A New Jersey dentist has been suspended after his patients were diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis.

A New Jersey dentist has been suspended after his patients were diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis. (yacobchuk / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A New Jersey oral surgeon had his medical license suspended for five years after one patient died and 14 others got heart infections after undergoing dental procedures with him.

Fifteen patients of Dr. John Vecchione, who ran the North Jersey Oral Maxillofacial Reconstructive Surgery LLC in Budd Lake, contracted bacterial endocarditis between 2012 and 2014 due to “breaches of infection prevention practices,” according to the State Department of Health.

The chronic infection is caused by exposure to bacteria and occurs in the valves or lining of the heart, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s “associated with a high degree of illness and death,” the CDC states.

One of the patients, an unidentified 54-year-old man, died in November 2013, nine months after Vecchione pulled one of his teeth, according to the New Jersey Herald. The man had surgery for heart valve replacement after complications from enterococcus endocarditis, and died shortly after.

Fourteen others were diagnosed, but survived. Twelve of them required heart surgery, according to the NJ Division of Consumer Affairs.

Even after Vecchione was warned about the “breaches,” he continued not to follow infection control protocols, including a failure to use sterile water or sterile saline during surgical procedures, improper handling and storage of single dose medication vials, non-sterile preparation of instruments, and improper handling and disposal of needles and syringes, according to the DCA.

“Dr. Vecchione spent years denying any responsibility for the infections contracted by patients in his care,” Howard Pine, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs, said in a statement. “We are pleased that he has agreed to accept the terms of this Final Consent Order, which not only hold Dr. Vecchione responsible for his repeated violations of infection control regulations, but put in place controls and procedures to protect patients should he ever seek to reinstate his license and resume practicing dentistry in this state.”

Symptoms of endocarditis include fever, chills, a heart murmur, fatigue, aching joins and muscles, night sweats, shortness of breath, chest pain and swelling in the feet, legs and abdomen, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Vecchione was temporarily suspended in August 2016, and his suspension is retroactive to that date. He will be eligible to begin a one-year probationary period in August if he complies with the consent order and “demonstrates his fitness and competency to resume practice,” according to the DCA.

He was also fined $293,500.

“This settlement brings closure to a troubling case in which a medical professional allegedly took irresponsible risks with patients’ health by disregarding health and safety standards,” Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring that medical practitioners do not flout professional standards in place to protect patients’ health and safety.”

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