HAVERHILL — Richard and Diane Desjardins are lucky to be alive and healthy today.
Both suffered carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator Richard had hooked up to keep their sump pump running after power went out at their home during last week's ice storm.
The generator was placed inside the cellar, which they acknowledged was a mistake.
EMTs from Trinity Ambulance and firefighters got there in time to get them out of their house at 188 Crystal St., and take them to Caritas Holy Family Hospital in Methuen. From there, they were transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that blocks red blood cells from moving oxygen through the body.
Richard and Diane each spent two hours in a hyperbaric chamber to remove air bubbles from their blood.
According to Richard Desjardins, one of the firefighters responding said his meter showed the highest carbon monoxide reading he had ever seen. The three firefighters put on masks, but they also had to be treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.
"We lost our power at about 11:30 p.m. (Thursday)," Diane said. After a tree fell on the house near their bedroom, her husband told her to get out of there.
"So I lounged on a couch (in the living room)," she said.
In the meantime, her husband made several trips to the cellar to check on the sump pump and the generator running it. He said he has used the generator to power the sump pump during previous outages, but this was no ordinary blackout.
"It's been a long time we lost power this long," Richard said. Previous outages lasted maybe two or three hours.
As the outage continued and the sump pump kept running, Richard, 68, began to feel ill.
"He said, 'I'm beginning to feel lightheaded,'" Diane recalled. "He was staggering and fell into a chair."
Not surprisingly, Diane was scared.
"I didn't know what to do," she said. She called their son, Robert, a part-time police officer in Atkinson, N.H. She told him she feared his father had a stroke or carbon monoxide poisoning.
He told her to call 911, then he did so himself, she said.
After calling her son, Diane began to feel sick, suffering what she called "dry heaves."
"When they (firefighters and EMTs) found me, I was passed out by the front door," she said. "I don't remember them coming."
Both Desjardinses are grateful to the emergency responders.
"I can't say enough about the firefighters and EMTs," Diane said. She said she also believes a higher power was working for them as well.
"I believe God saved our lives," she said.
Diane described the hyperbaric chamber as "like going into a capsule. It's almost like going underwater."
The patient lies down, receives oxygen, and can watch TV during the treatment. The purpose of the treatment, Diane said, is to rid the bloodstream of air bubbles, which can cause side effects such as headaches and nausea.
By 4 or 5 p.m. Friday, they were discharged from the hospital.
From now on, whenever they need to hook up the generator, it will be "absolutely outdoors," said Richard, a retired shipper and receiver for Scansoft of Peabody.
Diane, who celebrated her 65th birthday Friday, just retired from Circuit Board Express of Haverhill. They've lived on Crystal Street for decades. They've been married for 48 years. Their other two children, David and Yvonne, bailed out the cellar.
More than 20 people were taken to area hospitals with carbon monoxide poisoning since the storm struck the region late Thursday.
One death in Danville, N.H., was attributed to carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator attached to a trailer home.
Local public safety officials are continuing to warn of the dangers of running generators in an enclosed area. When used inside, the generator can fill a home with carbon monoxide within minutes and it will linger for hours.
"Our prayer is that other people learn from our mistake," Diane Desjardins said.
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