North Texas couple survives carbon monoxide poisoning

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on November 25, 2011 at 9:51 PM

Updated Saturday, Nov 26 at 11:37 AM

DALLAS - "I really would like to see you open your eyes," pleaded 70-year-old Margaret Harrington to her husband of 50 years, who was unconscious in a Texas Health Dallas hospital room.

Richard and Margaret Harrington were both very near death last Friday after their furnace began leaking odorless carbon monoxide gas as they slept.

It was their daughter who discovered her parents at home when they didn't answer her repeated phone calls.

"I heard her moaning and crying in there," Stacy Lahorgue said. "And I opened the door, and she was laying in the bed. When I tried to talk to her, she couldn't hardly talk. Her eyes were rolling back in her head."

Larhorgue's father was found slumped over in a chair in another bedroom.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 400 Americans die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. It is also responsible for more than 20,000 emergency room visits and 4,000 hospitalizations. Fatality is highest amongst seniors 65 and older.

Carbon monoxide kills silently by binding to red blood cells, making it difficult for oxygen to circulate in the body.

Symptoms of the poisoning include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. People who are sleeping can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

"The kidneys, the liver, the brain, the heart - anything can shut down from lack of oxygen," said THR Dallas pulmonologist Dr. Rebecca Doebele.

It all shut down in Richard's case. He had two heart attacks on the way to the hospital. His liver and kidneys also failed. He was in a coma for four days.

"I thought Tuesday that we would have to turn things off," his wife said, with tears in her eyes. "But then he opened his eyes."

He hadn't opened his eyes until Friday afternoon, the day after Thanksgiving, much to the excitement of family gathered around.

"Best Thanksgiving ever, actually," said Steve Lahorgue, the couple's son-in-law. "Looked like it was going to be the worst, and it turned out to be the best."

But even that hopeful sign is no guarantee that Richard will recover.

His family wants others to know it all could have been avoided had they had a $20 carbon monoxide detector.

"I want people to get carbon monoxide detectors for their homes," their daughter said. "This didn't have to happen to my parents. And I don't want it to happen to somebody else."

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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