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Nurse’s quick thinking saves family from carbon monoxide poisoning

January 07, 2016
Colleen Duprey

It was the quick thinking of Colleen Duprey, RN, triage nurse from BMP-Quabbin Pediatrics, who took the phone call just before 11:00 am on New Year’s Eve as a mother complained that several members of her family were sick and were passing out. Immediately recognizing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, Colleen recommended they get out of the house and call 911.

“Colleen’s recognition of the problem and immediate call to action clearly saved the lives of this family,” said Dr. Siege, Medical Director of BMP-Quabbin Pediatrics. “Breathing carbon monoxide (CO) harms your bloods ability to transport oxygen. Although everyone is at risk for CO poisoning, it is particularly dangerous for children because they breathe faster and inhale more CO per pound of body weight.”

“As triage nurse, Colleen answers a number of calls each day,” said Dr. Siege. “Families call for various reasons, and many concerns are managed with reassurance, instruction, or an appointment to come in and see a healthcare provider. There are very few calls that are emergencies, and what is outstanding is that Colleen was able to immediately recognize the emergency this family was facing and instruct them to take quick action.”

“Because the symptoms of prolonged, low-level carbon monoxide poisoning “mimic” the symptoms of common winter ailments (headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and even seasonal depression), many cases are not detected until permanent damage to the brain, heart and other organs and tissues has occurred. Once at the hospital, treatment depends on the severity of the carbon monoxide exposure. Mild exposure is treated with oxygen and monitoring of carbon monoxide levels,” said Dr. Siege. “Severe carbon monoxide poisoning may require high doses of oxygen therapy. In this case the children were admitted to the hospital and discharged the following day after evaluation and treatment,” said Dr. Siege.

“Now that the cold weather is here, furnaces, fireplaces, and other heating equipment are getting a work out,” said Dr. Siege. “With this use is also the increased risk of dangerous exposures to carbon monoxide (CO).”

“Prevention is the key to avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning,” said Dr. Siege, reminding families to take action to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. “Families should ensure their source of heat and their carbon monoxide detectors are in good working order. Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas that is a by-product of appliances, heaters, and automobiles that burn gasoline, natural gas, wood, oil, kerosene, or propane. It has no color, no taste, and no odor,” said Dr. Siege.

“If you suspect you may be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning, or your detector sounds an alarm, head outside immediately for fresh air and call 911,” said Dr. Siege offering tips to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:

• Make sure you have working carbon monoxide detectors.

• Have your furnace or wood-burning stove inspected annually. Hire a professional to make sure it is functionally sound and vents properly outside the home.

• Never run a car in an enclosed space. If a vehicle is running, you must have a door open to the outside.

• Generators should be run a safe distance from the home. Never run a generator in the home or garage, or right next to windows or doors.

• For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning visit Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (

BMP-Quabbin Pediatrics is located on the campus of Baystate Mary Lane Hospital in Ware. Open daily, the practice also offers urgent walk-in visits each morning from 7:30 am – 8:30 am, to see children who have developed an illness overnight. For more information or to schedule an appointment call 413-967-2040.