Jamie Carlisle sent a text to his son, Jeremy, to bring home some food one evening, hoping a hamburger would help him feel better.
It wasn’t a craving for a burger, but the hope that some food would improve the way he felt — he had been aching since the previous day and was feeling under the weather.
Some food, though, wasn’t the cure for his ailment.
Fresh air ended up being the required elixir for both he and his wife, Val, that evening, as she also had been feeling ill.
It turned out if they would have stayed in their home another night, they likely wouldn’t have lived to see the next morning.
When Jeremy brought food home the evening of July 17, his mother, who was lying on the couch in the front room, told her son to call 911. Leavenworth County Emergency Medical Service came, and the Tonganoxie couple were taken to a local hospital. Paramedics tended to the Carlisles and eventually asked whether the couple smoked. When they said no, paramedics suspected carbon monoxide poisoning.
Val’s percentage of carbon monoxide exposure in her blood was 38 percent; Jamie was at 33.5 percent, according to doctors’ tests.
“Zero is what you’re after,” Jamie said. “There’s no level that’s acceptable in your blood.”
Jamie, who is principal at Tonganoxie High School, also sells coffee beans and ground coffee as a second business. Though both commercial bean roasters in Carlisle’s home are electric, there was a freak occurrence sometime July 16 in the roaster’s cooling unit. A charcoal filter had somehow caught fire inside the roaster and was emitting carbon monoxide.
According to John Callaghan, deputy fire chief for the Tonganoxie City Fire Department, thermal equipment determined temperatures inside the roasting unit to be roughly 900 degrees.
“Standing next to it, you could feel the heat,” Callaghan said. “It’s very well-insulated apparently.”
Callaghan said carbon monoxide calls usually are a result of a malfunctioning furnace, hot water heater or the occasional gas stove.
“We’ve never seen anything like that,” Callaghan said about the Carlisles’ situation.
Carbon monoxide readings were prevalent throughout the house, Callaghan said, as carbon monoxide has the same weight as oxygen.
Jamie said he initially planned to drive he and his wife to the hospital when she was requesting an ambulance call, but Val’s persistence turned out to be a life-saver.
“So consequently, had I been stubborn, it would have been a fatal decision,” Jamie said.
The family was released from the hospital to “anywhere but home,” Jamie said. They stayed in a motel until it was safe to return to their house.
“It’s a weird feeling to come home and not know whether you’re safe,” Val said, referring to the carbon monoxide being odorless.
Val said her body felt like “shifting sand” during her exposure to carbon monoxide. Jamie said he felt dehydrated and was aching throughout his body and had a headache, but he gets stress headaches “about 590 times a year,” he said with a laugh. They also suspected food poisoning or even meningitis. Jamie is on the worship team at Tonganoxie Christian Church and had practice the morning of July 17. He thought getting out of the house might help him feel better.
Jeremy works outside much of each day, so he wasn’t exposed as much to the gas. He had about 5 percent exposure to carbon monoxide. A friend also was at the house for about 40 minutes the morning of July 17 and later said that he did not feel well after being in the home.
Since that weekend, the family has purchased three carbon monoxide detectors for the home. The faulty roaster isn’t being used currently, but Jamie installed a ventilation system to the other roaster, which ventilates through a wall to outside.
“I used to scoff at detectors in stores,” he said. “What a joke, are you kidding me? Who needs one of those? And now we have three.
“We now have the safest house in the four-state area.”
Callaghan said detectors normally run $25-40. He said the fire department has applied for grants that make detectors available to residents, but have not had success in securing those grants.
“Get carbon monoxide detectors, plain and simple,” Callaghan said. “Because you don’t know. And there’s no way of knowing. They’re not cheap, but what kind of a value do you put on your family’s life?”
He also encouraged people to never hesitate to call the fire department if a detector has been triggered.
“Even if you have a false alarm, we’ll come out and verify the situation,” he said. “We’d much rather respond to a false alarm than a tragedy.”
Coming home to both his parents needing an ambulance was an uneasy feeling for Jeremy.
“It’s pretty scary,” he said. “You never really want to think about something like that happening to your family.
“You hear about it on the news or on television, but you never really think it could happen to you. So it was pretty scary.”
The Carlisles’ experiences have left them with a different outlook at the dangers of carbon monoxide, one that has them urging others to also install detectors in their homes and appreciate life just a bit more.
And for Val, she also was left with a chilling what-if while in church roughly a week later.
“This is where my funeral would have been last Wednesday,” Val said.
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