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Carbon Monoxide Leak Threatens Mallard Family

By Staff | Jan 21, 2010

CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING struck members of the Ron and Mary Mader family from Mallard on Jan. 11. Due to a furnace leak, the couple’s children, 16-year old Greg Mader and 15-year old Sarah Mader (pictured), were hospitalized and treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. – Lori Hall photo

MALLARD – It could have been a story culminating in tragedy, but fortunately, it is instead a story with a miraculous ending.

On Monday, Jan. 11, the Ron and Mary Mader family of Mallard began their morning like any other. Fifteen-year old Sarah Mader awoke before 5 a.m. to ready herself for the early morning dance and basketball practices she participates in as a freshman at West Bend-Mallard High School. Feeling light-headed and sick to her stomach, her mother, Mary Mader, told her to lie back down and that she would check on her later.

Soon after, 16-year old Greg Mader roused himself to prepare to lift weights before heading to classes. But the West Bend-Mallard junior had a nagging pain in his head.

“Greg told me that he had the worst headache he’d ever had,” said Mary. “I assumed Sarah and Greg were both catching the flu from me. I’d been feeling sick since before Christmas and still wasn’t feeling well.”

Mary gave Greg some Tylenol and he headed off to school.

Meanwhile, Ron Mader awoke with a headache, as well, but got himself out the door by 6:45 a.m. for his job at Spencer International.

“It was like a domino effect,” said Mary. “But I never made the correlation that all of us were having symptoms.”

After her son and husband had left the house, Mary went back to bed. It wasn’t long before she heard the sound of the shower running in the bathroom and presumed her daughter was finally up and preparing for school. She jumped out of bed when she heard a loud “thump.”

Mary hurried to the bathroom, but the door was locked. Picking the lock with a toothpick, she finally opened the door.

“This is where it gets fuzzy for me,” said Mary. “I don’t remember much.”

Sarah had fallen in the shower and as Mary tried helping her out, Sarah collapsed again–this time into her mother’s arms.

“Her eyes were glazed over,” Mary said, her voice cracking. “I swabbed her face and kept calling her name. I told her not to leave me.”

Mary covered her daughter’s body with a towel and dragged her into the cooler air of the hallway. Blinking, Sarah regained consciousness and began to mumble. Running to the kitchen to get her phone, Mary returned to her daughter’s side, and called 911.

Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Office Communications Operator Becky Goeders was on the other end. She dispatched the Mallard First Responders–Ron and Kim Hutchinson, Ryan Jergens, and Eugene Ruppert–and two ambulances (one from Mallard and the other from Palo Alto County Hospital in Emmetsburg) to the Mader home. Sarah was immediately put on oxygen and transported to Palo Alto County Hospital.

“Eugene Ruppert, Sarah’s basketball coach, told her that he didn’t think she’d be playing in the game that night,” smiled Mary. “Becky [Goeders] called my husband to come home. He was the one who came up with the correlation with all of our symptoms.”

Mary then tried calling her son, but he wasn’t answering his cell phone. She contacted West Bend-Mallard High School and learned that Greg had been acting “loopy” all morning.

“Normally Greg is a really quiet kid,” Mary explained. “They said that he was acting drunk, slurring his words, and having trouble putting sentences together.”

Amanda Schmidt, principal at West Bend-Mallard High School, drove Greg to Palo Alto County Hospital, where he was placed on oxygen, as well.

Both teenagers’ blood was tested and carbon monoxide poisoning was confirmed. The treatment? Oxygen therapy. According to Mary, her daughter could have benefited from a hyperbaric chamber, but the nearest treatment center is located in Des Moines. Both Mary and Ron declined testing and treatment. The family also feared for its pet, a 17-pound house cat, but the animal was found alive and well.

While the Mader children were being tended to, the Mader house was, too.

“The Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Department shut off our furnace, opened the doors and windows to air out the house, and tested the carbon monoxide levels,” shared Mary. “That day, the furnace repair man came and fixed the leak. Surprisingly, our furnace is just 10 years old. You just don’t think that a newer furnace would have a problem.”

A new carbon monoxide detector was installed inside the home. Ironically, it was just a year ago that Ron and Mary loaned their carbon monoxide detector to their eldest son, Nathan, who lives in Nebraska.

“We just never replaced it,” said Mary.

That evening, Greg and Sarah were released from the hospital with doctor’s orders to take it easy.

“Although they couldn’t play in the basketball games, they did go to watch and be with their friends,” said Mary.

She credits the entire emergency response team–from the Communications Center and her First Responder-neighbors to the Palo Alto County Sheriff’s Office and Palo Alto County Hospital–with the positive outcome.

“They saved our lives that day,” said Mary.