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REXBURG, Idaho — Five kids and a relative are miraculously alive after a pipe from their furnace broke off and emitted invisible gas throughout their home, causing them to become sick with carbon monoxide poisoning.
It happened about a week ago at Michael and Ashlyn Hansen's Rexburg home. The couple was at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City with their youngest child while the other five kids were at the house being watched by Heather Hirschi, Ashlyn's sister-in-law.
Ashlyn Hansen delivered Crew, their sixth child, on Nov. 3. Crew has had health complications and needed open-heart surgery.
As Crew was recovering in the cardiac ICU last week, Hansen's 7-year-old son Gage began complaining Sunday that he was feeling sick.
"On Monday, he had a headache and I got an email from the school that morning that said COVID, cold, and flu was going around," she told EastIdahoNews.com. "I chalked it up to one of those and thought that he might just be feeling a little bit off. He can just be home and take the day off and my sister-in-law said she had been feeling the same way."
Within hours, Hansen's 2-year-old, Kade, began feeling sick as well.
"He called and FaceTimed me and was screaming. That isn't like him," Hansen recalls. "He could barely walk. He was all over the place, so unstable. As we are still FaceTiming, Gage throws up and then he falls to the kitchen floor and could not move."
Hansen knew something was off and thought maybe it was food poisoning or the flu. Soon everyone in the household was feeling sick and Hansen's mother-in-law stopped by to visit.
As she walked into the home, she immediately smelled gas. Another relative put everyone in the car and raced them to the emergency room at Madison Memorial Hospital where doctors determined the five kids and sister-in-law had carbon monoxide poisoning.
"If they would have stayed in that house through the night, there is a possibility that death would have occurred," Madison Fire Department Capt. Sarah Orr told EastIdahoNews.com. "I took two steps into the home with our gas meter and it read levels of 300 (parts per million) right there at the door. So automatically, we walked out of the house and had to go on air. This is a three-story home with a cellar and all of the levels of the house were 600 (parts per million) so this house was full of carbon monoxide. You should have levels of zero."
Hirschi and the kids were all put on oxygen for four hours and were then released to go home. They had headaches for a few days but have since recovered.
The gas line at the Hansen's home has been fixed and Michael Hansen has been with the five kids in Rexburg while Ashlyn Hansen remains at the hospital in Utah with their newborn. She said they did not have a carbon monoxide detector but are getting one now.
"It's one of those things that you don't think about until you have to. I hope that by just putting our story out there, people can check for carbon monoxide detectors," she said. "Make sure you have one because it could save your family. It was a very scary situation and the nurse at the ER told them if they hadn't gone in that night, it would have made for a devastating news story for the next day."
Each year more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires and more than 20,000 visits to emergency rooms are recorded, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In eastern Idaho, one of the most tragic incidents from carbon monoxide was in February 2014 in Pocatello. Bill and Ross Parrish and their two sons, 14-year-old Keegan and 12-year-old Liam, died in their home due to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Having discovered that there were no carbon monoxide detectors in the Parrish home, surviving family members have been on a mission to educate people about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and they are working to prevent future illnesses or deaths.
"We don't want anybody else to lose their life to carbon monoxide," Carri Parrish Curtis, a family member said in a previous interview. "Not one more life lost to carbon monoxide poisoning; there is no need. Even if they just had one (CO detector), it's a possibility it could have saved lives."
Getting carbon monoxide detectors into the home also remains a big concern for local fire departments.
"We respond to multiple (carbon monoxide calls) a week. That's a pretty common call we go on. Normally, it ends up being a minor thing," said Justin Morgan, a captain with the Idaho Falls Fire Department. "If you have any kind of gas appliance, heater, water heater or a gas line hooked up to your house, we recommend a carbon monoxide monitor in their home. You need to check them every six months and replace batteries, making sure they work. It's just as important as having smoke detectors."
According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. Carbon monoxide symptoms are often described as "flu-like." If you breathe in a lot of carbon monoxide, it can make you pass out or kill you. Carbon monoxide is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces. Click here to learn more.
Hansen says that she is grateful that her family's experience was not a tragedy.
"They have been watched over. With all that I am doing over here (in Utah), it was just a reminder that we are not alone right now and my kids are still being taken care of even though I am miles away," said Hansen. "Just make sure your carbon monoxide monitor or detector is working. Make sure that you have one. It's a small price to pay to save your family."