By Nik Bonopartis – More than a week after a Town of Poughkeepsie family was nearly overcome by carbon monoxide poisoning, headaches and fatigue linger as a chilling reminder of their near-fatal experience.
The deadly gas has been cleared from the homeand circulatory systems of the Sinha family on Coachlight Drive. But the memories have not.
Dr. Rabi Sinha knew something was wrong when he could no longer stand up.
Sinha was in his home on March 18, waiting with his children to see if the snowfall would turn a delayed school day into a canceled school day, when the kids started to feel ill.
Soon, Sinha and his wife began feeling nauseated too, and they thought a stomach virus or the previous night’s meal could have been the culprits.
”It got so much worse we weren’t able to keep our heads up,” Sinha recalled.
A half hour later, ”We knew it was more than a virus.”
With his children becoming unconscious and his wife dozing off, Sinha called
When firefighters and police arrived six minutes later, they found near-lethal carbon monoxide levels in the home.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that when breathed moves into the bloodstream and pushes oxygen out, preventing it from reaching vital organs in the body. Even low-level exposure can cause permanent damage to organs and the brain.
”You couldn’t smell any fumes, but as soon as you took a breath, you didn’t feel good,” said Lt. Ed Madison, one of the Arlington firefighters who responded to the Sinha’s home. ”A couple more minutes, they would have been dead. That’s how serious this call was and how close they came.”
Madison, along with firefighters John Cox and Richard Fishwick, quickly got the family out of the home and into an ambulance, where they put them on oxygen tanks.
The family was transferred to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, where doctors placed each of them inside a hyperbaric chamber for six hours to cleanse the carbon monoxide from their systems.
Hyperbaric chambers are most commonly used for decompression sickness, also known as ”the bends.” That sickness most often occurs when scuba divers dove from high-pressure to low-pressure environments, creating bubbles in the blood stream.
Carbon monoxide patients are treated in hyperbaric chambers with pure oxygen. Combined with high air pressure, the oxygen forces the carbon monoxide from the blood.
A week later, the Sinhas and their two children were still suffering from some side effects, including headaches and fatigue. It’s not uncommon for symptoms to show up even a month after carbon monoxide poisoning.
The Sinhas live in a large, biege-brick house in a neighborhood comprised almost exclusively of recently-built homes. Newer houses are fashioned with better insulation and often have double- and triple-pane windows. While those windows do a superior job of keeping heat or air conditioning from seeping out, they can also keep harmful gases sealed tight, Madison said.
The Sinhas have installed carbon monoxide detectors on all three floors of their home, and they’ve gone to their neighbors to encourage them to install the devices as well.
”When we found out what it was, I said ‘Why didn’t we have one?’ ” Sinha’s wife, Pramila Sinha, said.
Rabi Sinha, a doctor in private practice in internal medicine, said he hopes others don’t have to have a carbon monoxide problem hit close to home to take preventive action.
”Being aware is the best defense for this type of problem,” he said.
Authorities haven’t determined the source of the carbon monoxide, but they said dust may have been sucked into the home’s boiler, blocking outgoing air from the chimney. Also, it appeared the placement of the satellite dishes near the chimney may have also blocked air flow.
The boiler has been cleaned and the satellite dishes have been repositioned. Despite the lack of conclusive evidence on the source of the gas, authorities have deemed the home safe again.
Madison said it’s a common misconception for folks to think smoke detectors also double as carbon monoxide detectors. Both are important to have, he said.
”Everybody should have one, that’s for sure, and if you have more than one floor you should have them on each floor,” he said.
Effective March 6, 2003, the New York State Fire Prevention and Building Code Council made carbon monoxide detectors mandatory in all new houses and apartment units, as well as existing homes that are up for sale.
The council says detectors should be ”in the immediate vicinity of bedroom(s) on the lowest floor level of the dwelling unit containing