Friday, Jan 18 2013 07:32 PM

Family's survival of carbon monoxide poisoning holds lessons

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    By Felix Adamo/ The CalifornianThe Martinez survived a brush with carbon monoxide poisoning. From left are, Elena Martinez, Micaela Martinez, Guadlupe Ramirez, and Maria Martinez.

    The Martinez family survived a brush with carbon monoxide poisoning. From left are, Elena Martinez, Micaela Martinez, Guadlupe Ramirez and Maria Martinez.

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BY RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer

An Arvin family survived a brush with a silent killer last week.

Micaela Martinez, who lives with her four children and a granddaughter, said their house was hot when the family awoke at 5 a.m. on Jan. 11 to her 3-year-old granddaughter crying. They'd accidently left a wall heater on overnight and the women in the family felt dizzy, desperate and anxious.

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Silent danger

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause serious injury or death.

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when red blood cells pick up carbon monoxide, blocking out oxygen.

If left untreated, carbon monoxide poisoning can have long-term side effects, including chronic head pain and neurological problems.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include headaches, nausea, confusion, fainting and vomiting. If you and other people experience these symptoms, get out of the home immediately and call 911.

In addition to installing a carbon monoxide detector, here are some steps you can take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

* Have routine maintenance performed on heating systems by a professional.

* Have a professional check appliance vents and chimney flues for leaks.

* Don't leave a vehicle running in your garage.

* Don't use a charcoal grill inside.

* Don't rely on a gas oven to heat your house.

* Remember to change the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector.

Sources: Erik Subia, hyperbaric supervisor at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital; Pacific Gas and Electric Co.; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CAL FIRE; Mark Anthony, supervising technician at American Dream Services

Several members of the family went to San Joaquin Community Hospital and Micaela and her 14-year-old daughter were treated at Bakersfield Memorial Hospital in hyperbaric oxygen chambers to increase the oxygen in their bodies.

The culprit behind their illness: carbon monoxide.

"We feel lucky that we're alive because carbon monoxide is nothing that is a joke," said Carlos Martinez, Micaela's 23-year-old son. "Luckily my niece woke us up. We thank her and thank God for waking her up."

More than 500 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The odorless gas comes from burning fossil fuels, including oils, gas and wood, said Greg Powell, Kern County Fire Department engineer.

In California, the Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act required owners of single-family homes that have an attached garage, fireplace or a fossil fuel source to install a carbon monoxide detector by July 1, 2011. The law went into effect for leased or rented multi-family units, including apartments, on Jan. 1 of this year, according to CAL Fire.

Jameson Shepherd, office manager for property management company eHomes of Bakersfield, said his office had carbon monoxide detectors installed in all properties "well over a year" ago. It also checks to make sure the detector is still in place whenever it inspects a property.

"As a landlord, we have to provide a safe place to live and I think (carbon monoxide detectors are) just an extra step to make sure that happens," Shepherd said.

In addition to providing a safe living space, the devices also protect the landlord from liability.

"You don't wanna be that one place that didn't go through (with the detectors) and didn't even think about it and to have something horrible (happen). I think it just protects everybody a little better," Shepherd said.

Micaela said her family had lived in its rental home for eight years but did not have a carbon monoxide detector.

After the incident, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. told them the carbon monoxide problem came from the heater, Micaela said. The landlord brought the family a carbon monoxide detector the next day, according to Micaela. And Carlos said the landlord may be replacing their heater as well.

"Now that we have the carbon monoxide detector, hopefully this won't happen again," Carlos said.

Homeowners can protect themselves by having their heating system maintained by a professional company, said Mark Anthony, supervising technician at American Dream Services, a heating and air conditioning company.

They should also replace the batteries in their carbon monoxide detector regulary. Anthony said his trick to remembering that advice is to change the batteries in his detector when the daylight savings time change happens.

-- Californian staff writer John Cox contributed to this story.

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