WilkesBarre, PA – By Tim Gulla, The Citizens Voice – It was clear to Luzerne County Deputy Coroner Daniel Hughes that three members of a Union Township family did not know they were in danger.
John and Carol Vasicak, both 58, and their granddaughter, 12-year-old Airika Tyler, were found Thursday afternoon inside their McKendree Road home, the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. All were found in their beds. “Basically, they went to bed and didn’t wake up,” deputy coroner Daniel Hughes said.
Blood tests confirmed that both John and Carol Vasicak died from toxic levels of carbon monoxide, said Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Lisman. Their deaths were ruled accidental.
A blood test on the Vasicaks’ granddaughter was sent to a different laboratory and the results were not yet back. “We have no expectations of it (the test) being any different than her grandparents,” he said.
Officials blamed the carbon monoxide on a gas-fueled generator in the Vasicaks’ garage, which was directly underneath the living quarters of their home. They had apparently lost electrical service sometime Wednesday night, but officials did not know the exact time.
Hughes said someone had spoken to the Vasicaks by telephone at about 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday and that power was not out at that time.
The tragedy highlighted an unfortunate aspect of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Unfortunately, the only sign and symptom is a headache,” said Dr. Jack Consalvo, chairman of emergency services at Mercy Hospital in Wilkes-Barre. “That’s why it’s so deadly.”
Carbon monoxide is a major concern during the winter heating season, since it can stem from malfunctioning furnaces. Dr. Consalvo said emergency room patients complaining of a headache are always screened for carbon monoxide and asked about the heating units in their homes.
Once carbon monoxide reaches toxic levels it basically puts you to sleep and depresses your ability to breath, Dr. Consalvo explained. Carbon monoxide binds itself to hemoglobin in the blood, which prevents the blood from carrying oxygen.
In severe cases, carbon monoxide poisoning has to be treated with a hyperbaric chamber. Moderate cases are treated with oxygen therapy.
There can be many possible causes of carbon monoxide poisoning. It can occur any time you have a fossil fuel burning appliance.
Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless. You can’t taste it and you cannot smell it. Unfortunately you don’t even know it’s there unless you have a warning device or if you’re experiencing symptoms.
Four dogs and a cat also died in the Vasicaks’ home.