CLEVELAND — A Cleveland mother is thankful to be safe at home with her children after the family was exposed to carbon monoxide Thursday morning. She’s sharing her story in the hopes that it helps other people stay safe.
Lydia Ruiz said her heater was turned on for the first time this season Wednesday.
Ruiz said she first noticed an issue just before 7:30 a.m. on Thursday. Her two-year-old daughter was up a bit earlier than usual and had been fussy all night.
“I remember her waking up and just kind of wanting to rip her clothes off,” Ruiz said. “And I'm like, ‘What is wrong with you? You're acting weird.’”
Ruiz said she tried cuddling with her daughter but eventually decided the little girl might just want to get up. Ruiz opened the door from her bedroom to the bathroom, where one of the heaters is, and “it just hit me,” she said. “From there, it was blurry.”
According to the Cleveland Fire Department, Ruiz and her two daughters, as well as the downstairs neighbor, were exposed to carbon monoxide as a result of a faulty furnace.
“You know how you get charlie horses? Well, that was happening all over my body. So I felt like my body was shutting down instantly,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz began screaming for her other daughter, who is nine years old. “She's not answering me, so I'm crawling to her at this point,” Ruiz said. “My daughter, my little two-year-old, is not leaving the bed. She's just laying there, which is not normal for her.”
She went into her older daughter's room and found her “balled up.”
“I'm like, ‘Hey, get up, get up.’ And she's not answering me, so I shook her. I was like, ‘I can't. I'm losing, I’m losing energy.’ I’m like, ‘I can’t, get up,’” Ruiz said. “And then she finally wakes up. She's like, ‘Mom, I don't feel good,’ and just starts throwing up everywhere.”
As her older daughter vomited, Ruiz said she went to go try to get her younger daughter to help both of them get out, since the stairs to the outside are in between the rooms. She asked the older daughter to follow her, but she couldn’t move and just lay where she was.
“So at that point, I'm panicking,” Ruiz said. “I am praying to God like it literally felt like it was my last moment.”
She decided she wouldn’t give up. She went to the bed to grab her daughter, but dropped her and collapsed.
Then, she fell down the stairs.
“And as I'm down here, I'm like, ‘Please, just God, give me one more strength to open this door because I'm screaming. But nobody can hear me at all, at all. No one can hear me,” Ruiz said.
She managed to open the door and continued screaming. Thankfully, Ruiz said, her landlord was already there since the downstairs neighbor had called to tell him it was too hot in the apartment.
Ruiz said her last view was of the landlord running to her.
“And then I kind of woke up a little bit again to say, ‘Save my kids, go get them, they’re upstairs,’” Ruiz said. “He’s like, ‘The kids!’ I’m like, ‘They're upstairs. Please get them.’ And he went and grabbed one and then grabbed the other and then put them on me, grabbed a blanket, wrapped us up. And we were here till the ambulance got here.”
After a trip to the hospital, some ibuprofen, and some oxygen, the girls and Ruiz are all feeling better.
Ruiz said the experience was terrible.
“It was from tingling to numbness to like now your left side is done,” Ruiz said. “It was just something I would never, ever wish, not even on my worst enemy.”
Stranger still, Ruiz said, was how fast it all happened.
“It doesn't take one, two minutes, it doesn't take five. It’s seconds,” Ruiz said. “You breathe it, you turn, like your body starts tingling up, then you’re numb and then that's it. You're done. You pass out.”
She said she believes she had about 45 seconds to get the children out and decided it would be better to throw herself down the stairs to try to get help for her kids.
“I’m hurt. I’m so hurt right now. I've got bruises everywhere, but I'm alive,” Ruiz said. “My kids are alive. I couldn't be any more thankful.”
She said she hopes the faulty heater gets fixed as soon as possible, and that she’s just grateful they were awake when this all happened. She encouraged anyone who thinks there might be carbon monoxide in their home to call their landlord or fire department to take care of it.
She hopes her experience helps other people stay safe. Her neighbor, Tommy Shaw, has certainly taken that lesson with him.
“It could have been me,” Shaw said.
He took time Thursday to check on his own furnace and make sure everything was working properly, something he said he does regularly for preventive maintenance.
Shaw said he was thankful no one was seriously hurt.
“That's a blessing right there,” Shaw said. “So I say to everybody out there, you know, just don't take life for granted.”
He encouraged everyone to make time to get their furnace and smoke detectors checked.
T.J. Martin, public information officer for the Parma Fire Department, said some symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure include nausea, vomiting, constant headaches, blurred vision, aphasia (inability to speak), and fatigue.
“That's one of the big ones,” Martin said of fatigue. “Unfortunately, a lot of times, people will feel tired, not knowing that they've been exposed to carbon monoxide. They fall asleep and then only increase their chance of getting carbon monoxide poisoning."
He said the odorless, colorless gas can come from places like the stove, oven, or furnace as a product of incomplete combustion.
Martin encouraged everyone to have a carbon monoxide detector in their homes.
“Carbon monoxide detectors will pick up a presence of carbon monoxide in their home at a very low rate,” Martin said. “Something that's undetectable or imperceptible to the average human will be picked up by carbon monoxide detector. When it goes off, you know you have a problem.”
As with smoke detectors, fire departments recommend changing the batteries in your carbon monoxide detector twice a year, when the clocks change for Daylight Saving Time. After changing the battery, Martin said each detector has a button to press to make sure the audible alarm sounds and that the detector is working properly.
“Unfortunately, people, out of sight, out of mind,” Martin said. “They think it's always going to work and it's always going to be there. When we don't check them, that's when we run into problems. So we've seen people that have taken the batteries out because the battery was low with the anticipation of maybe replacing the battery at some time in the future, and then they just forget. We've seen people take the batteries out because the remote control went dead. So they put the battery in their remote control.”
He urged people to keep an active, full battery in their detectors to “ensure that it’s there in your time of need.”
He also recommended people get their furnaces checked annually by a professional who can tell if everything is working properly.
“The best thing you can do is if you feel that you have a presence of carbon dioxide, or you're feeling the signs and symptoms, open your windows, get out of the house, clear the area and call 911,” Martin said.