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Teacher affected by CO poisoning talks about experience


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MONTEZUMA CREEK, San Juan County — A teacher sickened by carbon monoxide at a small southern Utah school, revealed new details Wednesday about the confusion and concern as the colorless, odorless gas wafted through the building Monday morning.

"I started to get a headache, right when I got to school," said Connie Todachinnie about the start of her day before eight a.m. at Montezuma Creek Elementary School in San Juan County.

Todachinnie is the teachers' instructional coach with 16 years of experience in the district. She talked about the ordeal before leaving the LDS Hospital Wednesday afternoon.

Right after Todachinnie told the principal she didn't think she'd make it through the school day, other teachers also reported to the office. A kindergartener said he was having pains in his arms and legs, and a third grader passed out.

"But, there was really no reason to connect anything, yet," she said.

In retrospect, she said the clues that something was wrong are easier to see.

"It kind of went so fast, and so slow at the same time," she said.

However, before long, she said kids started vomiting, lunchroom workers got sick, and more teachers were calling Todachinnie to tell her about more ill students.

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"It just got. . Okay, we've got to get out of the school," Todachinnie said.

Officials later confirmed an exhaust pipe for a water heater was leaking carbon monoxide into the building. As her dizziness intensified, Todachinnie evacuated the building after more than 15 minutes of exposure. Once outside, she said she at down against a wall. She doesn't think she lost consciousness.

"I kind of had to hold onto the walls to get out of the building," Todachinnie said. "I guess I just lay there, and I thought, 'Move. Get up. Say something,' and I couldn't."

She was airlifted to a hospital in Cortez, Colo., and then flown to LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Of the 40-plus students and teachers poisoned by the carbon monoxide, Todachinnie had the most severe reaction. She said she still felt groggy Wednesday, but she's recovered after three treatments in a hyperbaric chamber. The treatments flushed her body with a large amount of oxygen that helped quicken the release of carbon monoxide from her system.

Todachinnie said she thinks the principal handled the gas leak well. She blamed no one, but believes she would be wiser if it happened again.

"Looking back, I wish we had gotten the kids out earlier," she said.

Todachinnie said she's eager to get home to see her own two kids. They were also affected by the gas, but not hospitalized.

"We need to use this to build our community strength, and come together, because it's all about our kids," she said.

Carbon monoxide detectors are currently not mandatory in all Utah schools. However, a lawmaker is pushing to make it a law, and Todachinnie thinks that's a great idea.


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Jed Boal


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