MOUNT OLIVE — A northern New Jersey dentist whose unsanitary practices were linked to 15 serious bacterial infections — and one death — is still being allowed to practice under a state consent order.

The consent order details a history dating back to 2012, when two individuals were diagnosed with bacterial endocarditis — both requiring heart surgery — after getting wisdom tooth extractions at John Vecchione's Budd Lake office.  Vecchione operates a second outpatient surgery clinic in Parsippany,

The state Board of Density investigated, and learned of another case of the disease, requiring a heart valve replacement, after a patient underwent a bone graft and implant procedure at the same office.

Blood samples weren't available, but all three cases involved enterococcus faecalis — and the chances of all three patients encountering that specific strain of bacteria after procedures at the same officer were slim, according to the consent order.

Endocarditis — the disease caused by the bacteria — is an infection of the inner lining of the heart, generally occurs "when bacteria or other germs from another part of your body, such as your mouth, spread through your bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in your heart," according to the Mayo Clinic.

Untreated, endocarditis can damage or destroy heart valves and can lead to life-threatening complications, it says.

According to an NBC report, other state reports show that when investigators searched other records, they found patients had been infected, likely during the use of IVs to sedate patients before surgery. A dozen required surgery because of their infections, and one died because of complications during his cardiac surgery.

One patient, Jefferson Township resident Ryan Del Grosso, underwent successful cardiac surgery but bost 30 percent of his hearing and has severe ringing in his ears, according to the NBC report.

He told NBC he cries "only when I talk about it," and said "I certainly don't sleep at night."

The Lynch Law Firm, firm representing Del Grosso in a lawsuit, says on its website "Dr. Vecchione has demonstrated a negligent and careless failure to exercise the proper care and diligence that is required of his profession. Because of this, he has caused permanent damage to our client and several other patients."

In inspections in 2014, health officials found a range of violations, the consent decree states — using common alcohol pumps, using a single vial for multiple patients' medication, pre-filling syringes, non sterile preparation of instruments, poor documentation of medication units used and others. They couldn't definitively prove a connection to the three cases of endocarditis being investigated at the time, but the board determined the office "would benefit from improved infection prevention protocols."

A 2015 visit found more room for improvement, but also that the office had started improving procedures as it was asked to in 2014. A review by an infection prevention consultant Vecchione hired found more opportunities to improve — implementing reviews of sterilization procedures, making copies of CDC guidelines available to staff, monitoring hand hygiene and other steps.

The state agreed to let Vecchione continue practicing because of the efforts he'd made to improve practices.

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