Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week will be taking place from November 21st-25th starting with a seminar at the House of Lords. In this preview, FIRE features one family's harrowing experience.

Craig's story begins in 1988, eight years before his birth. At this time, Craig's parents and two brothers were living in a newly built home, into which their gas fire was leaking deadly, poisonous carbon monoxide (CO). With a young family to look after, Craig's parents were extremely safety conscious. All gas appliances present in the home had regular service checks by British Gas.

Already a mother to two small children, Craig's mother fell pregnant again in 1988. However the pregnancy was plagued with health problems from the start. In the early stages of the pregnancy, doctors believed that Craig's mother had miscarried, but tests confirmed that this was not the case. Consequent pregnancy scans appeared to show abnormal areas of calcification. The baby failed to grow whilst in the womb. Medical professionals carried out blood tests to try to establish the cause of this growth failure, the results of which came back inconclusive. However, whilst doctors checked for infection, they failed to even consider testing for the presence of carbon monoxide in the blood. Craig's parents were deeply concerned about their unborn baby's lack of growth, but the real cause was never diagnosed.

To Craig's mother, the pregnancy seemed to progress very slowly. Craig's mother came out of nearly every antenatal visit in tears; overwhelmed with concern for her unborn child and frustrated at the lack of answers. Two months before her due date, Craig's mother went into premature labour. Craig's sister Kelly was born just before midnight on 12th August 1988, weighing a tiny 3lbs and 6oz. Kelly stayed in the Special Care Baby Unit until she was strong enough to be allowed home.

In the family home, Kelly's carrycot was placed to the right hand side of the fire. She was a good baby and slept through the night after just two weeks at home. She also slept well throughout the day, waking only for a feed and nappy change. Kelly often brought up some of her feeds, but doctors put this down to a "virus". Every winter, Craig's whole family would be sick and doctors would diagnose yet another "virus".

Meanwhile, Gavin, the younger of Craig's two brothers started school, but did not seem to settle in well. At home he would frequently bang his head and have clumsy accidents. Craig's mother can recall numerous occasions when Gavin would accidentally walk into a wall or door. When she quizzed Gavin about his accidents, Gavin would simply reply that he "didn't see it". In the classroom, Gavin's teachers reported that he would lose interest very easily. A teacher once said "Gavin could often be found wandering aimlessly around the classroom unsure of what he was doing." The same teacher observed that it was as if the message got lost on the way to Gavin's brain. Gavin's worried parents took Gavin to the doctor and his symptoms were diagnosed as "behavior problems". Craig's mum knew her son didn't have behavior problems, but didn't know what was happening to her son.

Craig himself was conceived in 1995. Once again, his parents' joy was short-lived as Craig never seemed to put on much weight whilst in the womb. A scan showed calcifications similar to Kelly's. Doctors failed once again to eliminate the possibility of CO poisoning as the potential culprit when carrying out blood tests. Doctors feared Craig would be born with cystic fibrosis and bowel problems. Due to their concerns it was decided that after Craig's birth, he would undergo tests.

Craig was six weeks premature when he was born on June 29th 1996 at the Countess of Chester Hospital. That same evening he was taken by ambulance to the Neonatal Unit at Liverpool's Alder Hey Children's Hospital. Because Craig would not feed it was decided that a bowel biopsy should be performed. Around the same time, Craig's mother noticed that his breathing sounded different and informed the nurse. Doctors diagnosed a coarctation of the aorta − a narrowing of the main artery leading form the heart. Craig was taken into Intensive Care, and operated on as soon as he was stable enough.

On 22nd July, a heart murmur was detected and on 12th August Craig's heart valve began to narrow and he was admitted for observation. On August 21st, doctors decided to carry out a cardiac catheterisation via Craig's hip. Two days later a blood clot developed. The clot was successfully dissolved with the aid of drugs and once again Craig was allowed home. Then again on 21st October, during an outpatient's appointment, it was noticed that Craig's heart valve had started to close again so another cardiac catheterisation was carried out.

Every new baby has a check-up via a GP at the age of six to eight weeks, but due to Craig's health problems his check-up was delayed until September 12th. The GP raised concerns about a click in Craig's right hip and so Craig was referred to a doctor at Warrington General Hospital. X-rays were taken but due to the fact he had an existing heart condition and was already registered under Alder Hey Children's Hospital, it was decided that further tests would be carried out there.

In March 1997, Craig underwent the first of three operations. He was taken into theatre for a hip operation. Doctors took an angiogram of his hip and it was discovered that Craig was not suffering from a dislocation of the hip as was originally diagnosed, but from a bacterial infection in the hip joint. His parents were informed that he would experience pain from standing up for long periods of time and that one leg would, inevitably, be shorter than the other. He would need specially made shoes and by the age of forty, a hip replacement would be required.

From 1997 onwards, every winter without fail, Craig would fall ill with what doctors diagnosed as a "virus" and he suffered from constant vomiting. Craig suffered from this until the age of four.

In 1998, Craig's parents decided that they needed a bigger house to accommodate their growing family. Like most people putting their house on the market, they wanted to make the home they were selling more appealing to buyers, so a new fire was fitted. Craig's mother arranged for British Gas to fit the new fire in the October of '98. Craig's parents were pleased with the installation, until that Christmas, when there were high winds and the fire kept going out. Unbeknown to the family, in 1996, all gas fires were fitted with a safety cut-out device. British Gas were called but were totally disinterested and showed little concern. However; they advised Craig's parents to contact the makers of the fire.

An engineer called and carried out safety checks. The engineer condemned the fire, disconnected it and put warning signs on it. The safety checks were conclusive; the fire had been leaking out dangerously high levels of Carbon monoxide every time it was in use. However; this wasn't the only problem. The fire was only two months old but the flue had been blocked with builder's rubble from new. British Gas had serviced and installed the new fire, but had completely overlooked the blocked flue. For weeks Craig's parents tried to contact British Gas about the problem, but they showed no interest in the matter.

Eventually the company sent an engineer but nothing resulted from his visit. Craig's mother did not give up and was adamant to get answers. She contacted British Gas again and asked to speak to supervisor, only to be told again that they would have to send another engineer out who would report back to them. The engineer called, and wrote a report but again, the family heard nothing back from British Gas. Unperturbed, Craig's mother contacted British Gas a final time only to be told that British Gas would have to send out a Flue Specialist. Two men called and removed large pieces of builder's rubble that had been blocking the flue. Craig's parents were offered a mere £100 compensation by British Gas - a frankly insulting price to put on the lives of six people.

Craig's father developed chest problems and died, another possible victim of Carbon monoxide poisoning, that November. His mother was left alone to bring up four young children. Over the years that followed, Craig has constantly had his hip and heart monitored via outpatients appointments. As his right leg has grown slower than his left he has endured continual pain. By the age of nine, Craig's right leg was 4cms shorter than his left. On 10th May 2006, Craig was admitted to Alder Hey for leg lengthening surgery that would last three hours. Pre-operative tests on his heart raised concern over his heart condition. Doctors concluded that it was likely that Craig would require another operation to repair his heart.

At 10:30am on Thursday 11th May, Craig was wheeled along to the operating theatre. Time stood still for his mother as she awaited the outcome of the operation. Minutes seemed like hours as the last words of the anaesthetist rang in her head: "Every operation carries with it some risk". She wanted to cry but was afraid she would be unable to stop.

Craig's operation involved his leg being broken in two places and six screws and a fixator being attached to it. Craig's family suffered all this pain because of Carbon monoxide poisoning. What made it worse for Craig's mother was the sad fact that all this could have been preventable.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause congenital heart problems. If Craig had not suffered heart problems he would never have required the cardiac catheterisation. The infection would not have got into his hip and this would have prevented the arthritis from developing. One of Craig's consultants disagreed with this theory and said "long stays on Critical Care Units can cause infection". This is a possibility, but the long stay in the Critical Care Unit was, in itself, due to Carbon monoxide poisoning.

Memory problems can result from Carbon monoxide poisoning All members of Craig's family suffer from varying degrees of memory loss. Young children, pregnant women and unborn babies are all vulnerable to the effects of Carbon poisoning.

If, like Craig's mother, you previously knew nothing about the devastating effects of Carbon monoxide poisoning, then take the first steps to protecting your family by buying and fitting a battery operated Carbon monoxide alarm as a back up to your annual gas service. They are easy to install and it could make all the difference in a life or death situation. Don't put your family at any unnecessary risk. Remember, Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. It is odourless, colourless and tasteless. Carbon monoxide doesn't just kill; it has debilitating effects that last a lifetime."

 

Medical Update 

Craig had more hip and leg surgery in 2009. He needed to take more time away from school. In October 2011 Craig's mum received a phone call from Guy's saying they can't see Craig has he isn't under a neurologist there. The families GP wrote to them in May requesting they retest Craig. It took the hospital six months to tell the family they wouldn't see her son. Craig will need more surgery next year to pin his him, and more the following year.  

 

Education Update 

Craig is now 15. He and his mum attended parents evening last week. Craig had booked appointments for them both to see his subject teachers between 4.30 pm-5.30 pm. Craig has had a SENCO teacher since entering the school. His mum had spoken with the SENCO teacher at the school for 5 years. They lead Craig's mum to believe everything was fine with Craig's education and there were no concern. However Craig's mum now believes every teacher she spoke with that evening was unaware that her son has short term memory problems (a brain injury) due to his Carbon monoxide exposure. Craig has difficulty remembering if he is given too much information or too many tasks to complete at any one time. His brain can't retain the information he is sometimes given in class. Craig and his mum ended up dropping another GCSE subject that night. His mum needed to explain Craig's learning problems NINE times that night. They left the school at 7.30 pm two hours later than expected.

 

For more info about Craig's story or the national Carbon monoxide Awareness week founded by his mum please contact:

Lynn Griffiths: Lynn@covictim.org 

 

Posted November 18th, 2011 at 1010 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: andrew.lynch@pavpub.com