Dentist Linked to Bacterial Outbreak Agrees to Improve Sanitation Practices

A New Jersey oral surgeon's practices has been linked to 15 cases of a bacterial infection of the heart called endocarditis over the last two years, including one case that lead to death due to surgery complications, NBC 4 New York has learned. 

Dr. John Vecchione, who operates outpatient surgery clinics in Mt. Olive and Parsippany, signed a consent decree to use best practices in sanitation with NJ Board of Dentistry after more than a dozen people had to get surgery after the rare outbreak of the bacteria.

The decree comes after a two-year investigation by the state Health Department and Dentistry Board into sanitation at Vecchione's practice that began after Jefferson Township's Ryan Del Grosso was diagnosed with with endocarditis about five weeks after having two wisdom teeth pulled.

A doctor treating Del Grosso, now 25, at Morristown Medical Center remembered a similar case of the rare disease and notified state officials.

Health investigators identified three cases, all following surgery from the same practice, and later searched records of other patients from 2013 and 2014. The records revealed that 15 patients had been infected, likley caused during the use of IVs to sedate patients before surgery.

Investigators also went to Vecchione's practices, finding several examples of non-sterile products, storage issues and poor hand hygiene.

They twice ordered procedures changed, and one investigator later said the drawers in Vecchione's practice "reminded me of the junk drawer you'd find in your kitchen if they had syringes and multi-dose vials."

Vecchione fully cooperated with the investigation, according to the decree, which didn't find any causative link between the infections and conditions at the clinic. He also voluntarily agreed to make sanitation improvements immediately. 

The dentist didn't respond to NBC 4 New York's requests for comment. 

Ryan, meanwhile, underwent successful cardiac surgery. But he lost 30 percent of his hearing and has severe ringing in his ears. .

He is suing, and says he cries "only when I talk about it," adding "I certainly don't sleep at night."

His attorney, James Lynch, found a state Department of Health report outlining its investigation, but said he could only get it through a public records request.

"There has to be a change in the system to make these things public so that people can protect themselves," Lynch said.

Currently, the state doesn't require reporting of single cases of endocarditis. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said there are no plans to change the reporting requirement at this time, despite the fifteen cases linked to this practice in 2013 and 2014.

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