An Edmonton family is recovering at home after six of the seven — soon to be eight — members were poisoned by carbon monoxide early Friday morning.
“I just went to bed fine Thursday night,” 19-year-old Marisa Ganamo said while surrounded by her family members in their south Edmonton living room.
“Then I wake up around 4 a.m. to go to the washroom. When I got up I was kind of dizzy and after that I don’t remember anything.”
The blended family, originally from Ethiopia, at first thought they ate something bad. The family’s father, Hussein Turi, went out to buy a phone card to make long distance calls back to Africa.
When he got home, his family, including his eight-month pregnant wife Hugitu, were collapsing.
“I fainted in the washroom. And then after a few minutes I heard my dad and my mom screaming,” Marisa explained. The commotion woke little brother Taman, who got up to see what was going on. When he fainted, his face hit the wall, opening up a gash across the bridge of his nose.
“I was kind of dizzy but I didn’t know what was going on. And then I just woke up on my mom’s lap and I was bleeding everywhere,” Taman said while pointing to the healing scar near his eyes. He said his teeth hurt from the impact. “I can’t eat on this side, on the right one,” he explained while motioning to the tender area.
“I was so afraid that one of my sibings would die, or my mom, she’s pregnant and was vomiting,” Marisa said.
Taman echoed his big sister’s fears. “I was really scared, mostly for my mom and I was crying because she’s pregnant.”
Everyone except Hussein was vomiting and fainting.
“If my dad was inside with us we would [have] all died. If we all fainted there would be nobody to call 911,” Marisa explained.
Ambulances arrived and took Marisa, her two other sisters, mother and two younger brothers to the Misericordia hospital in west Edmonton. It was there that they learned they were suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.
“I was really shocked because that isn’t what I was expecting. If we knew it was that we should have left the house earlier, but we thought it was like, food poisoning or something,” Marisa explained.
Marisa, mother Hugitu, Taman and their little brother Issa all had to be treated in the hospital’s hyperbaric chamber several times.
The therapy chamber is used to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide in the blood and restore the oxygen level to normal as quickly as possible. Patients are put inside, pressure inside the tube is raised, and 100 per cent oxygen is delivered under high pressure.
The family spent just over a day in hospital before being discharged Saturday morning.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by exposure to a colourless, odourless gas known as carbon monoxide or CO.
It’s known as the “silent killer.” When a person inhales CO, it begins to replace the oxygen that is normally carried in the blood, which leads to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Poisoning symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, weakness, chest pain, and confusion. More severe CO poisoning leads to loss of consciousness and death.
Because the symptoms are similar to other illnesses, carbon monoxide poisoning can be hard to identify.
The gas is found in combustion fumes from several sources, including furnaces and fireplaces, vehicle exhaust, wood stoves and other fuel burning appliances, smoke from a fire or blocked fireplaces, nonelectric heaters and malfunctioning gas appliances.
The risk of CO poisoning increases during the winter months, when more heating appliances are used and windows and doors are closed. Growing up a warm climate country, the family never had to worry about CO poisoning.
They have lived for almost three years in a subsidized housing complex in the Duggan neighbourhood run by Capital Region Housing, which provides affordable housing in the Edmonton area. The CEO said a faulty furnace in one of the residences at 105 Street and 38 Avenue was to blame.
“There’s always a challenge with coming to a new country,” Capital Region Housing spokesman Greg Dewling said.
“We do orientate our new tenants when they are moving in and show them everything in their home, including the furnace and all the sensors and so forth. But it’s quite overwhelming for a new family and so some things do get forgotten at times.”
The family was told their furnace was old.
“Every summer they post something that they’re going to come in and check, but they never show up,” Marisa said. She said they did have inspections of their home, “but mostly to check if something’s broken. But they never checked the furnace, I think.”
“We want our families to feel safe, to be safe and we’ve identified something that we can do better,”Dewling said.
The furnace was replaced after Friday’s close call, and a carbon monoxide detector was also installed in the home. Dewling said these townhouses were scheduled to have CO detectors installed.
“Over 75 per cent of our homes have a carbon monoxide detector. Typically we upgrade them when we fix the furnaces, when we upgrade our furnaces. So they were slated for next summer. We’ve decided to go ahead and upgrade all the carbon monoxide detectors in all of our suites,” Dewling said Sunday.
The Capital Region Housing relies on government funding to help maintain their properties. He said while they regularly upgrade their furnaces, this one hadn’t been upgraded yet because there are only so many dollars to go around.
“If we had had the funding earlier all the furnaces would have been upgraded by now,” Dewling said. “We tend to have to budget year-over-year to do so many each year.”
For tips on carbon monoxide and detectors, visit the Government of Alberta website.
WATCH BELOW: Often referred to as the silent killer, carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless, tasteless gas that can become deadly within minutes. What are the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and how can you avoid it?