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Family recovering after carbon monoxide scare

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KEARNS — Mary Burgener and her two children consider themselves lucky after having a close call with carbon monoxide poisoning. While a family member remains in the hospital, 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 didn't wake up Wednesday morning.

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

She woke up Wednesday between 6:15 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. She said she wasn't feeling right. "(I was) just really dizzy, horrible headaches and my ears were just ringing, loud ringing," she said.

She said there was a horrible gas smell coming from a 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 12-year-old Zach Burgener. "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 said 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.

Prevent carbon monoxide exposure:
  • Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.
  • Do seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
  • Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
  • Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.
  • Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented.
  • Don't heat your house with a gas oven.

Credit: Centers for Disease Control

When a Questar Gas employee arrived at the house 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 residents and found her brother-in-law. The employee got him out of the house and he was taken to the hospital for treatment.

As of Thursday afternoon, Burgener said her brother-in-law, Adrian, remained in the hospital. "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 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, Lindell and the family said it's important to check that a 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 said. "If you don't have them, purchase them. It's worth it. It (carbon monoxide) could kill somebody you love."


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Mike Anderson


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