CHIAfE+VRES, Belgium - Thirty people die and another 1,500 are hospitalized in Belgium annually from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Statistics' Yes, but the numbers becomes personal when friends or loved ones are involved.

Three members of the U.S. Army Garrison Benelux family are among the lucky 1,500 survivors. The trio were treated at hospitals and released after a propane hot-water boiler released tasteless, odorless, colorless, toxic carbon monoxide in their bathroom - silently attacking the youngest member of the household.

MaAfA-tAfA, the 23-year-old daughter of Cis Spook, ChiAfA..vres Garrison public affairs officer, collapsed while bathing, breaking part of a sink as she crashed to the floor in convulsions.

"I heard something break and ran into the bathroom," said Spook, recalling the early January ordeal. "You always think these things happen because someone probably didn't get furnace maintenance or they didn't pay attention. That's not necessarily true; it can happen to anyone."

Carbon monoxide poisoning is all too common. More than 2,000 people in the United States are asphyxiated each year and tens of thousands hospitalized, according to Environmental Protection Agency figures. The U.S. Army Garrison Schinnen safety office report that in the Netherlands, an average of 15 people die and 150 are hospitalized annually after being stricken by the gas.

After removing her daughter from the contaminated area, Spook dialed emergency assistance. MaAfA-tAfA remained unconscious until responders gave her oxygen. Carbon monoxide restricts the amount of oxygen that red blood cells can carry, which, over intense or long-term exposure, can kill.

"When the emergency responders arrived, they had a carbon monoxide detector and their alarm went off," Spook said, prompting the team to take her, her daughter and her husband, Eric, to a hospital to have their oxygen/carbon monoxide levels checked. The firefighters measured the carbon monoxide level in the bathroom at a dangerously high 585 parts per million.

Spook and Eric were treated with oxygen overnight at a hospital and released. However, MaAfA-tAfA was admitted to a Ministry of Defense hospital in Brussels for hyperbaric chamber oxygen therapy.

Today, all are recovering - with a lesson to share.

"The hot water boiler was installed new in 2001," Spook said. "We didn't think anything about it not working properly, but it only takes one time to possibly kill. We replaced the propane boiler with an electric system because of this experience."

She also advises making another acquisition.

"Purchasing a carbon monoxide detector for the house can save someone's life because the problem is tasteless, odorless and colorless. We didn't know there was a problem," she said.

"And tell everyone to never lock the bathroom door. It could waste precious minutes getting assistance if there is a real problem."

Page last updated Mon February 4th, 2008 at 08:16