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Utah family survives CO poisoning

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Posted at 9:16 PM, Nov 14, 2012
and last updated 2012-11-15 01:00:17-05

SALT LAKE CITY - A Utah mother says her family was nearly killed by an odorless gas. Shirlyn Watson says her body was fighting a war against carbon monoxide poisoning and years later, she's still sick. Shirlyn and her youngest daughter are still feeling the side effects.

"We just kept getting sicker and sicker and sicker and we didn't know why," recounts Shirlyn Watson.

It was the winter of 2000. Watson and her family had been suffering from severe headaches, but it wasn't until someone came to fix their broken water heater that they realized what was wrong.

"It's a miracle I guess that we're all alive because the plumber when he found it his face went ash; he said, 'Oh, my gosh. You should all be dead.'"

The plumber discovered small amounts of carbon monoxide slowly seeping into the Watson home.

"I just felt like my head was going to explode all the time, we never went to hyperbaric chambers. No one ever suggested or said this is what you need to do."

"As it turns out people with carbon monoxide-related brain damage many of them behave like those who have post-concussive syndrome from trauma," says Dr. Lindell Weaver.

Weaver is the Medical Director of Hyperbaric Medicine at Intermountain Medical Center and LDS Hospital who treated a Salt Lake family of six for CO poisoning. They were finally allowed to go back home Monday night after nearly a week of hyperbaric treatment.

"Some people have uneventful recovery after poisoning. Some people have permanent brain damage and even permanent heart damage."

"I was so depressed," says Shirlyn Watson.

She says even now she suffers from bouts of depression and sleep deprivation; her 12 year-old daughter had memory loss and even a learning disability but is better now.

"She can memorize words now, she can spell what, when, the, but she couldn't remember things."

Dr. Weaver warns not everyone is as fortunate. "If one is exposed to really high doses of carbon monoxide, death may ensue really before a person gets ill."

"My body has been through a war, that's what it feels like. We've been through a major war and we're still coming out," said Watson.