Baby's cries save family from deadly CO poisoning

Sonny Long

May 14, 2012 at 12:14 a.m.
Updated May 15, 2012 at 12:15 a.m.

A 2-year-old's cries may have saved the lives of the rest of his family early Monday morning.

"When the baby started crying, I thought maybe he was having a nightmare because he never cries during the night," said Sheila Canales.

But Canales knew Jayden Fuentez's cries were more than a bad dream when her 16-year-old daughter crawled into her bedroom.

"She couldn't move her legs and she was throwing up," Canales said. "I tried to get up and I collapsed. At that point I knew it was carbon monoxide."

The 16-year-old, Mariah Flores, used her mother's cell phone to call 911. They woke up her sister Alexia Flores, 17.

"It was dreamlike. Our bodies wouldn't allow us to move, so we crawled to the front door," Canales said.

Victoria Emergency Medical Services personnel were already at the door in the 2300 block of Ozark Street by the time the family reached it.

"Their CO detectors were beeping wildly when they came in. If we had stayed in here 30 more minutes, I hate to think...," said Canales, her voice dropping off before she finished the sentence.

"I thank God they got here so quickly," Canales, 38, said. "They gave us oxygen right away and sat us outside."

According to the Victoria Fire Department report, two of the patients had significant signs and symptoms of CO poisoning. The other three had minor to moderate signs.

The residence registered high levels of CO during inspection by fire department personnel, according to the report.

The gas service to the residence was secured and the gas company was notified. The home was also filled with fresh air.

The cause of the possible carbon monoxide poisoning is under investigation, said Victoria Fire Department Battalion Chief Bubba Bayer.

Canales thinks she knows the culprit and has already replaced a wall-mounted, gas water heater.

She and her children were taken to Citizens Medical Center. A fifth patient taken to the hospital was not identified.

The incident happened about 4 a.m. and the family was released about 9:30 a.m.

"They kept us on oxygen the whole time," Canales said Monday afternoon. "I still have a headache. It feels like a hangover."

What is CO?

Carbon monoxide is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal is burned, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If appliances that burn fuel are maintained and used properly, the amount of CO produced is usually not hazardous. However, if appliances are not working properly or are used incorrectly, dangerous levels of CO can result.

"Every year, nearly 500 people die in the U.S. from accidental CO poisoning. Change the batteries in your CO detector every six months. If you don't have a battery-powered or battery back-up CO detector, buy one soon," said Jay Dempsey, health communication specialist with the CDC.


At moderate levels, CO exposure can cause severe headaches, dizziness, mental confusion, nausea or fainting. A person can die if these levels persist for a long time, according to the CDC.

Low levels can cause shortness of breath, mild nausea and mild headaches, and may have longer-term effects.

Since many of these symptoms are similar to those of the flu, food poisoning or other illnesses, it is sometimes difficult to determine if CO poisoning is the cause.

Red blood cells pick up CO faster than they pick up oxygen. If there is a lot of CO in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with CO. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death.



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