Carbon monoxide poisoning

Bulletin courtesy photo

Leigh Ann and Adam Schimmel and their daugthers receive oxygen at the Johnson County Healthcare Center emergency room. All family members experienced carbon monoxide poisoning after a blocked boiler caused CO to build up in the house. 

Adam and Leigh Ann Schimmel are thankful to be alive after a close brush with carbon monoxide poisoning on Dec. 5. 

Adam, Leigh Ann and their daughters, Adeline, 5, and Elouise, 1½, are home and well after their home was overcome by deadly carbon monoxide from a blocked boiler. 

Leigh Ann said that she had set her alarm for 3 a.m. Dec. 5 in order to prepare food for the high school theater troupe she advises, and she didn’t feel well when she got up.

“I just felt awful, very dizzy, a little disoriented,” she said. “I thought I had the stomach flu, and I thought it was just worse because of being pregnant.” 

Then Elouise threw up in bed, and Leigh Ann dispatched Adam to deal with the sick toddler. Then Leigh Ann passed out – something she attributed to the mix of pregnancy and the stomach flu. On top of it all, the family’s cat was underfoot. Leigh Ann tried to shoo him outside, but the cat was acting funny and wouldn’t go out. 

“Adeline got up, and she was like a drunken sailor walking down the hallway, and I still thought we were still all sick with the stomach flu,” Leigh Ann said. 

Leigh Ann started to make alternative plans for her day – calling her mom to help care for the sick kids so that she could care for herself. The family tried to get comfortable on the couch, and Adam and Elouise were falling asleep. 

“I just kept thinking we’re all sick,” she said.

And then the cat began to make horrific sounds. 

“I’ve never heard anything like that,” Leigh Ann said. “Adam looked at me and was like, ‘Everyone get out of the house, the cat can’t have what we have. We are being poisoned.’

“You play all this through your head, if the cat had gone outside, we would have fallen asleep on the couch and that would have been it.”

Carbon monoxide is called the silent killer because it is a colorless, odorless gas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year over 400 Americans die of non-fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide can build up in a home due to faulty, improperly used or incorrectly vented fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, water heaters, generators and fireplaces. In the Schimmel home, a mouse had built a nest inside the boiler, which prevented it from properly ventilating. 

According to Mayo Clinic, when you inhale carbon monoxide, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This prevents oxygen from reaching your tissues and organs. The brain and heart suffer quickly, but all organs are affected by lack of oxygen, and it can cause death. 

The Schimmels called 911, and Sheriff Deputy Doug Schultze, Buffalo Police Chief Jason Carder, county fire and Buffalo EMS responded. 

CO detectors will alert people if the CO in a building exceeds 40 parts per million for 10 hours or 70 ppm for an hour. At a concentration of 200 ppm, a healthy adult will experience headache, fatigue, dizziness and nausea after two to three hours of exposure. 

When firefighters arrived, the CO level in the Schimmels’ basement was 700 ppm; in Adam and Leigh Ann’s bedroom, it was 500 ppm.

“We had no CO detectors in the house, which is so negligent,” Leigh Ann said. “I didn’t even know we didn’t have carbon monoxide detectors. We all learned a lesson. We have them now, and I’ll tell whoever I talk to, to go buy them.” 

All four were taken by ambulance to the emergency room. People should have a CO level of less than 3. Adam’s was 24; Leigh Ann’s was 26. The girls were 16 and 18. 

All four received four to six hours of pure oxygen and were monitored to make sure the CO levels in their blood stream were coming down. Because Leigh Ann is pregnant, doctors wanted to observe her for 24 hours, so she spent one night in the hospital.  

“Everyone got sick at the same exact time, and that should have been a clue,” Leigh Ann said. “It’s so scary, but this is what it takes to maybe save somebody’s life. I hope lots of people read this and go and get those detectors. It’s such an easy fix. God tried to get us out of the house multiple times and keep us awake. We are so lucky.” 

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