Posted: 12/10/2013
Last Updated: 4 days ago

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected in killing one person and causing seven others to become ill Tuesday morning in Commerce City, according to the coroner and the doctor who treated the victims.

Deputies were initially called to the home on 78th Place and Kenwood Street  just before 6 a.m. on a report of an unconscious man.

When Adams County deputies arrived, they said the man had died inside the home and they called ambulances for the four adults and three children in the home.Xcel crews could be seen working outside the home and neighbors told 7NEWS it was carbon monoxide poisoning.

The coroner later confirmed that carbon monoxide “appears” to be the cause of the death, but said a postmortem examination had not yet been completed.

“It was just chaotic,” said neighbor Sherry Phares. “There was the police, the firemen, more ambulances, then Xcel came out.”

7NEWS confirmed the family members were taken to Presbyterian/St. Luke’s in Denver for treatment in the hyperbaric chamber. Dr. Bill Clem is a specialist in hyperbaric medicine and treated the family for nearly three hours in the chamber.

“This was a case, unfortunately, where the furnace wasn’t working properly,” Clem said.

Clem described the treatment, saying, “it simply squashes the oxygen molecules tighter together, so you breathe more oxygen with every breath.”

Presbyterian/St. Luke’s hyperbaric chamber is the only chamber in the region that can treat critical cases. It can hold up to 10 patients. Clem said depending on the levels of carbon monoxide, it can take only minutes for someone to die from CO poisoning and this is the time of year they see an increase in cases.

“It’s not uncommon. Usually at the beginning of the heating season is when we see most of our problems,” Clem said.

Meanwhile, neighbors who describe the family as hardworking and good people are still in shock.

“It’s sad to hear that such a tragedy happened,” Phares said. “It’s kind of unreal cause it’s just down the street. They’re nice people.”

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and poisonous gas that has a higher binding affinity to hemoglobin — the protein that carries oxygen in the blood — than oxygen does.

Red blood cells pick up CO quicker than they pick up oxygen. If there is a lot of CO in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with CO. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death. CO can also combine with proteins in tissues, destroying the tissues and causing injury and death.

CO can be found in various fuels such as coal, natural gas, and propane, and in various equipment including vehicles, portable generators, furnaces and water heaters. The office of the coroner recommends that all households and businesses have CO monitors to detect the presence of carbon monoxide.

The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

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