Carbon monoxide poisons hundreds

By ANDI ATWATER, Published by

Carbon monoxide poisoning from emergency generators has killed three people statewide — including a Pine Island man — and injured hundreds more as people inhale deadly fumes.

Stacee Young, 24, woke up dizzy and befuddled in her Cape Coral home at 4 a.m. Saturday and knew something was wrong.

She woke up her roommate, Susan Crawford, 27, and they stumbled their way toward the generator, humming loudly inside the women’s garage.

Crawford never made it. She passed out just as she got to the gas-powered machine, collapsing onto the hot metal and sustaining burns that kept her in intensive care for days.

Young, losing consciousness several times, managed to call 911 and save three dogs and two birds before fainting outside in a ditch, her sister, Dana Miller, 29, said. One of the birds died.

“It nearly killed them both,” Miller said. “They had the garage cracked open and thought that was OK. A lot of people are thinking they can do that, but it’s not enough. My family was minutes from dying.”

Emergency rooms in Southwest Florida have been jammed with storm-related illnesses and injuries, but none so many as the dozens of patients poisoned by inhaling carbon monoxide fumes.

The emergency department at Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center has treated at least 60 patients for carbon monoxide poisoning since Hurricane Charley, many requiring oxygen therapy inside the hospital’s nine-seat hyperbaric chamber. One family had put its generator in the laundry room.

Lee Memorial Health System’s three emergency rooms have treated dozens, officials said.

“It’s ranging from keeping it in the house or garage to keeping it in the back yard with the windows open,” EMS spokesman Paul Filla said. “People are afraid their generator is going to get stolen, so they’re putting it in the garage and assuming that it’s fine. It’s not.”

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that displaces oxygen in the hemoglobin of the red blood cells, which carry oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues, including the brain and muscles.

Many patients at Southwest Regional had as much as 25 percent carbon monoxide in their hemoglobin, said Dr. Larry Hobbs, emergency services director.

“If there’s enough carbon monoxide, it’ll displace all the oxygen and you’ll suffocate,” Hobbs said.

Generator safety

Dr. Larry Hobbs, emergency services director at Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center, said residents can avoid carbon monoxide poisoning if they keep their generators away from the house and in a well-ventilated area. Even garages are dangerous.

“A majority of them are putting generators in the garage then closing the garage door,” Hobbs said. “So carbon monoxide seeps through all the different doors because they’re not air tight.”

Carbon monoxide mainly attacks people while they’re sleeping, as the fumes build up through the night.

Early symptoms include a headache and nausea. Numbness in hands and feet may occur and “you may feel very woozy or tired,” Hobbs said. As carbon monoxide levels increase, people will get very weak and collapse and sometimes vomit.

Some tips for generator safety:

• Keep the generator outside the house in the open air and away from open windows.

• If you must put it in the garage, keep the main garage door open.

• If you’re worried about theft or looting, chain the generator to something, but do not bring it in the house or close the garage door.