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Teacher released from hospital after school carbon monoxide poisoning

Published: Tuesday, July 7 2015 9:55 a.m. MDT

Connie Todachinnie is helped out of LDS Hospital by Alan Barnett and Melonie Aldous on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. Todachinnie was the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning at Montezuma Creek Elementary School on Monday. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Connie Todachinnie is helped out of LDS Hospital by Alan Barnett and Melonie Aldous on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. Todachinnie was the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning at Montezuma Creek Elementary School on Monday. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — It started with a headache.

That was the first sign something was wrong, though Connie Todachinnie didn't know it at the time.

The 45-year-old instructional coach recalls feeling a little dizzy Monday shortly after she arrived for work at Montezuma Creek Elementary School, not knowing that dangerous carbon monoxide gas had filled the school.

Todachinnie was one of 43 employees and students at the San Juan County school who were sickened by the gas leak. The rest of those affected were treated and released from hospitals in Blanding, Monticello and Cortez, Colo.

Todachinnie was first taken by medical helicopter to Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez and later transferred to LDS Hospital, where she was treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.

Connie Todachinnie is helped out of LDS Hospital by Alan Barnett and Melonie Aldous on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. Todachinnie was the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning at Montezuma Creek Elementary School on Monday. (Matt Gade, Deseret News) Connie Todachinnie is helped out of LDS Hospital by Alan Barnett and Melonie Aldous on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013. Todachinnie was the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning at Montezuma Creek Elementary School on Monday. (Matt Gade, Deseret News)

"It kind of all went so fast and so slow at the same time," Todachinnie said Wednesday, shortly before she was released from the hospital. She spent two days at the hospital, including three trips to a hyperbaric chamber.

First, one boy felt aches and wouldn't get up off the floor, Todachinnie recalled. Then a girl in another classroom collapsed. Soon everyone was feeling ill, and teachers and administrators started to wonder whether it all was connected.

Could it be a gas, they asked?

At first, attempts were made to ventilate the school by opening doors and windows. Not long after, administrators decided to evacuate.

Todachinnie wonders if she got the worst of the exposure because she went to a mechanical room looking for a school custodian who wasn't answering their pages. She ended up at the source of the leak and soon had to get outside.

"I just sat against the brick wall and tried to breathe," she said. "I could see what was going on, I could hear what was going on, but I couldn't move."

Todachinnie reported Wednesday she was still feeling quite tired and sore, but she was ready to get home, especially to her two children who attend second and sixth grades at the school.

Both children are doing well, though, as a mother, Todachinnie said she can't help but worry about possible long-term effects of exposure to the carbon monoxide, which could include memory loss or other cognitive difficulties.

Todachinnie said she doesn't blame anyone for the leak and, after this experience, insists she will install carbon monoxide detectors in her home. She looks forward to returning to the school after Thanksgiving.

Email: mromero@deseretnews.com Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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