Carbon monoxide scare prompts warning from Kearns family

Published: Thursday, March 14 2013 6:15 p.m. MDT

Zach Burgener clears his ears for pressure as he is treated in a hyperbaric chamber. He, his mother, sister and uncle narrowly escaped death Wednesday by carbon monoxide poisoning and are being treated at LDS Hospital Thursday, March 14, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

KEARNS — Mary Burgener and her two children consider themselves lucky after having a close call with carbon monoxide poisoning.

While a family member remained hospitalized Thursday, she said she knows things could have ended in tragedy.

Preparing to head inside a hyperbaric chamber at LDS Hospital Thursday morning for their last two-hour treatment, Mary Burgener shared the frightening realization of how bad things might have ended up if her family hadn't woke up Wednesday morning.

“Everybody in the house could have been dead,” she said.

She woke up between 6:15 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. and realized that she wasn’t feeling right. “(I was) just really dizzy, horrible headaches and my ears were just ringing — loud ringing,” she said.

She also noticed a horrible gas smell coming from the basement furnace. That’s when she rushed everyone out of the house.

“My mom woke me up and said that we had a gas in our house, and I didn’t know what she was talking about,” said Zach Burgener, 12. "I went in the bathroom, and I didn't feel good. I felt like I was going to throw up, and I had a severe headache.”

After getting her kids out of the house, Burgener said she found her brother-in-law Adrian downstairs near the source of the leak.

"When I first saw him, I thought he was dead,” she said. "He was laying next to the toilet in the bathroom and he was completely unconscious."

She yelled at him to get up and told him they had to get out of the house immediately. When he didn’t respond, she called 911.

When a Questar Gas employee arrived at the house at 4470 W. 5855 South around 7 a.m., his equipment immediately detected extremely high levels of carbon monoxide. The employee told Mary Burgener to get everyone out of the house. He then checked the house and found Adrian. The employee got him out of the house and he was immediately taken to the hospital for treatment.

Her brother-in-law remained in the hospital Thursday. “I really hope he pulls through and doesn’t have any major issues,” she said.

While the Burgeners smelled natural gas, doctors warn that they were lucky. The carbon monoxide that made them sick has no odor.

“I think the message is still lacking, that carbon monoxide is incredibly dangerous,” said Dr. Lindell K. Weaver, director of hyperbaric medicine at LDS Hospital. “There’s a significant reduction in oxygen levels (in the body), and if profound enough that can result in unconsciousness, and even death.”

Levels in the basement were around 800 parts per million, which is very high, Lindell said.

Mary Burgener said she was told that her furnace or boiler was not burning as efficiently as it should have. “Apparently our exhaust valve was disconnected — bad ventilation, apparently,” she said.

Since the gas is odorless, Weaver and Burgener both emphasized the importance of making sure that a working carbon monoxide detector is in the house. The Burgener family had one, but it hadn’t been properly maintained and wasn’t working.

“Check your carbon monoxide detector,” Burgener warned. “If you don’t have them, purchase them. It’s worth it. It (carbon monoxide) could kill somebody you love.”

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

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