A Uniontown family that was exposed to severe levels of carbon monoxide in October survived to warn others of the dangers and advocate for awareness.
“I don’t want that to happen to anyone else,” said Jamie Pikulsky. “It was awful.”
Several factors were at play that saved the lives of the family of four on Oct. 17. Pikulsky stayed late at work to help fundraise for a friend with cancer. She arrived home at 2 a.m. Her husband was sleeping on the couch, her 7-year-old daughter, Elora Pikulsky, was sleeping in her parent’s bed, and her older daughter was sleeping in the guest bed instead of her attic bedroom. At about 7 a.m., oldest daughter, Leah Anido, 18, went downstairs to get medication for a headache. At the same time, Jeff Pikulsky was in severe pain and disoriented. He thought he had a bad migraine. Elora Piksuly had a nose bleed and woke her mother. A few minutes later, Leah crashed through her mom’s bedroom door, hit her head on the TV and sat with eyes glazed over, unresponsive.
“I knew something was very, very wrong,” Jamie said, wiping a tear from her cheek. “So I started to jump out of bed, and I started screaming for my husband, and he didn’t answer me,” she said. “Now I was like, ‘Jeff, call 911! Call 911!’ And all I heard was, ‘I can’t.’”
Jeff had become incapacitated. Jamie called 911.
”My husband somehow gathered up enough strength to crawl up a flight of stairs on his stomach,” Jamie said. “He was yelling, ‘God, please save my kids. God, please don’t take my kids.’ Even though he was already on the floor, he collapsed once he reached my daughter and grabbed her hand.”
Within three minutes, EMS, police and firefighters were streaming into the house. A carbon monoxide meter detected lethal levels in the house, and firefighters screamed for everyone to evacuate.
“They told us afterward that if we were in the house a matter of minutes more, we could have all died,” Jeff said.
Because Jamie worked late, she was not exposed as long as her family members, and she was able to call 911. Her younger daughter’s nosebleed – a common occurrence – woke her up so that she later heard her older daughter collapse. Leah’s impromptu decision to sleep downstairs saved her life, because the levels of carbon monoxide in the attic were lethal. If she had returned to her room instead of alerting her mom, the family would have died in minutes.
“My mom would be having to plan four funerals,” Jamie said.
All four of them were taken to the hospital in critical condition and put on oxygen for six or seven hours. They made a full recovery. Jeff and Leah are still being checked periodically, but said they feel fine. The family dog, Schmutzi, a 3-pound min pin chihuahua, was also checked out by a veterinarian and recovered.
The family was unaware that a few weeks earlier, the chimney was damaged. It was the first night they turned the heat on overnight, and a faulty furnace was pumping carbon monoxide through the house. Now, they want everyone to know the importance of installing carbon monoxide detectors and checking furnaces annually.
“I never, in a million years, thought this would have happened to us,” Jamie said.
Uniontown Fire Department Lt. Scott Conn, a friend of Jamie, commended her for spreading awareness about the importance of carbon monoxide detectors.
“All is well that ends well, and thank God,” he said. “That’s not the first time that’s happened, either.”
He said the fire department gets about a dozen calls per year for carbon monoxide poisoning. He recommended putting a detector on every floor of the house.
“You can’t go overboard with them,” he said. “That’s the guardian. That’s what’s watching over you.”
He reminded people to have their furnaces checked, and to never grill or run a vehicle in an enclosed area. Fireplaces should be cleaned regularly, and ventilation should be checked.
If a carbon monoxide detector is going off, “get out into fresh air and call the fire department,” he said.
Jamie and Elora participated in the Halloween parade, and smoke detectors were handed out for the community. The Fayette County Chamber of Commerce will be giving out free carbon monoxide detectors from its office at 65 West Main Street from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 22.
Several people told Jamie they installed detectors after hearing her story, and many people have supported the family. The parade was a reminder of her caring community, she said.
“I just really love living in this little town, because we really do come together when bad things happen,” she said. “It just makes you realize that even when you go through a really terrible thing, that there are so many people that care about you – people that don’t even know you – when you live in a small town.”