Cedar Rapids, IA – Furnace issues and a simple mistake with a carbon monoxide detector nearly cost a Cedar Rapids couple their lives this month.

Now, the couple is stressing the importance of having a properly installed carbon monoxide detector in the home.

“I just feel like there’s a purpose we didn’t die,” said Anita LeGrand. “I’m on a mission.”

Dec. 6 was an average day for Anita and her husband Ray. Anita was in and out of their southeast Cedar Rapids home all day and Ray was working in his downstairs office all day. When Anita got home that evening, Ray was complaining of a headache.

“I was disoriented and dizzy,” Ray recalls.

Thinking he might be coming down with the flu, Anita told Ray to take some Tylenol and sent him upstairs to bed. Shortly thereafter, Anita — who has had two heart attacks — said she began experiencing chest pain. She took nitroglycerin and her conditions temporarily improved. As she went upstairs, the chest pain returned and Anita took a second nitroglycerin. When the symptoms persisted when she got in to bed, the LeGrands called 911 after Anita took a third nitroglycerin.

First responders, including firefighter-EMT Greg Hankins, arrived at the home a short time later.

“We responded basically thinking it was a basic medical call,” Hankins said.

They soon found it was something more serious. As they were doing an assessment on Anita, the firefighters and medical professionals noticed Ray wasn’t faring well, either. Feeling something “wasn’t right,” Hankins said one of his fellow firefighters grabbed a gas monitor.

The monitor alerts when carbon monoxide levels hit 30 parts per million. At 35 parts per million, humans will suffer a headache and dizziness within six to eight hours of constant exposure. At 100 ppm, humans will have a slight headache after only two to three hours.

The carbon monoxide level in the LeGrand’s home was roughly 700 ppm. Nearly enough to cause dizziness, nausea and convulsions after only 45 minutes of exposure.

“It can be life threatening within as little as an hour,” Hankins said.

The LeGrands were put on oxygen and taken by ambulance to the St. Luke’s Hospital emergency room. Blood tests showed their carbon monoxide levels to be between 26 and 35 percent. The normal level in humans in 2.3 percent. A level of 40 percent is fatal. Because their levels were so high, the LeGrands were sped to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to undergo treatment in the facility’s hyperbaric chamber.

“We didn’t realize it was that critical,” Ray said.

The thought of spending time in a hyperbaric chamber was an uncomfortable one for Ray and Anita, who are both claustrophobic. Fortunately, the UI’s chamber was the size of a “small submarine,” Anita said, while also praising the hospital staff. While they received hyperbaric oxygen treatments, the LeGrands were able to sit in recliners in the chamber and hold each other’s hands.

“That was really comforting that we could comfort each other,” Anita said.

The treatments lasted from the early morning hours of Dec. 7 and continued into Dec. 8. Hospital staff kept them for another night for observation and they were sent home on Dec. 9. The carbon monoxide leak was discovered to be coming from their furnace, which was fixed.

The couple had a carbon monoxide detector in their home. However, Ray said it was disconnected at the time so he could paint the outlet where it was installed. Now, he’s not taking any more chances.

“We have two of them now,” he said.

Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless and exposure causes flu-like symptoms. Hankins recommends having a carbon monoxide detector in the home and making sure it’s in working order. If your detector goes off, he recommends calling the fire department, even if you think it’s just malfunctioning

“It’s always better to go on the safe side and have us come and look at it,” he said. “If you think there is a potential you have carbon monoxide in your residence, go to a safe air area.”

Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said there have been 15 calls this year when a carbon monoxide detector went off and the gas was discovered in the home and another 72 calls when the detector went off, but carbon monoxide wasn’t found, though that could be due to residents ventilating their home prior to the fire department’s arrival.