Life

Guardian angel saved my life from silent, invisible killer: Teacher escapes toxic carbon monoxide death

Exclusive by Dean Wilkins

Half-term lie ins are a welcome moment of bliss for teachers – a chance to have an extra hour snuggled up with your partner and an excuse to stay in cosy pyjamas until noon.

But for University of Manchester graduate Lucy Chant the Halloween school break will be remembered for a lucky escape from the grasp of silent killer carbon monoxide.

Mrs Chant was less than three hours away from being another avoidable victim of fatal poisoning but was thankfully saved from death by her guardian angel Katie Haines.

The pair met at university in Manchester during freshers’ week and immediately became inseparable friends – until Katie’s tragic loss due to carbon monoxide poisoning almost three years ago.

The heartache of losing a close friend to such tragic circumstances is something few will be forced to experience – but without it, Mrs Chant may have lost her life the same way.

“I’m a teacher and on the Thursday morning of October half-term, I got out of bed and headed to the kitchen to make breakfast,” she told MM. “As I walked into the kitchen, our carbon monoxide detector showed high levels of CO being given out by our boiler – with a reading 600 on the digital detector.

“If we hadn’t had the alarm, we could have been dead within three hours.”

Carbon monoxide is an increasing danger across the UK, more than 50 people were killed due to fatal poisoning last year and 4,000 are hospitalised each year.

It is extremely difficult to diagnose and can often be mistaken for food poisoning or flu – the Department of Health believe that the actual number of cases is much higher than recorded.

But fortunately Mrs Chant was aware of what to do and immediately called a gas engineer, opened as many windows as possible and evacuated the house with her husband Dan.

“If we hadn’t had a detector we would have had no idea, Dan would have headed off to work and left me at home with a silent, invisible killer,” she added.

“If it wasn’t for Katie’s story, we wouldn’t have had a detector. I believe she saved my life that day. The shocking point is that millions of people in our country do not have a CO detector and are putting themselves and their families at risk.

“We sat in the car for a few minutes and didn’t really know what to think. It was only after the engineer came round that it seemed real. When I told my friends and family, so many of them said my guardian angel Katie was watching over me.

“I like to believe this too.”


HAPPY RUNNERS: Lucy and husband Dan helped raise money in Paris marathon


WEDDING: Lucy joins friends to celebrate Katie’s wedding day in 2010

Trade association Energy UK found that a huge number of people mistakenly believe their smoke alarm will detect carbon monoxide – and up to 35million people are at risk from poisoning.

Campaigners from The Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed found that 42% of people who do not have a carbon monoxide alarm think that their smoke alarm detects the gas.

Audible alarms cost around £20 and can be easily purchased from DIY shops or online – they can also be installed by your energy supplier.

Mrs Chant is now a trustee of The Katie Haines Memorial Trust, which was set up in a bid to help save lives across the UK by campaigning for mandatory carbon monoxide alarms.

Mrs Haines and her husband Richard enjoyed their honeymoon in South America in 2010 and were settling into married life when a faulty boiler released a fatal amount of carbon monoxide.

The newlywed lost consciousness and banged her head causing her to fall in the bath and drown – her death tore her family and friends’ lives apart but together they are battling to warn millions.

“Katie was great fun, we always had a scream together,” Mrs Chant recalled. “However, she was also very caring and always looked out for her friends and genuinely wanted the best for you.

“When I went through a difficult time a few years ago, she organised for all our friends to put money together for my birthday so that they could send me on a spa day to cheer me up.

“Losing Katie was awful and I still sometimes don’t believe it. I can still hear her laugh and see her so clearly. I can hear her voice and picture the face she used to pull when we were dancing to Backstreet Boys!

“When Katie died, it made us all realise how important it is to not take anything for granted.

“We made a promise at Katie’s funeral that we would set aside one weekend a year when we all get together – no exceptions.”

The friends meet and celebrate Katie’s life, and join her family and widower to remember the unforgettable impact she had on their lives.

But they are now calling on the government to make a stand and prevent people from unnecessarily losing their lives like Katie – and with just £20 death can be sidestepped like Mrs Chant.

The trust has produced a powerful video highlighting the importance of alarms and endeavours to achieve a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness.


DANGERS: Just £20 could save your family’s life from silent killer carbon monoxide

Television advert campaigns, such as anti-speeding, rail crossings and Christmas food poisoning, are helping to save lives – but as of yet there has not been enough government support for their fight.

The silent killer took the lives of Northern Irish teenagers Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson in the same year as Mrs Haines and building regulations have now been changed across the state.

It is compulsory for new homes to have carbon monoxide alarms and Mrs Chant is pushing for the same legislation to be implemented across the UK.

“It should be mandatory, particularly in tenanted properties,” she added. “Carbon monoxide detectors aren’t always going to save all lives but together with properly maintained appliances, they will achieve a level of necessary safety.”

The risks of the toxic gas can escalate quickly, and without warning – high levels can kill rapidly when boilers, hobs and fires fail.


GUARDIAN ANGEL: Katie’s life can be used to help save other people

The Katie Haines Memorial Trust offer free advice about how to help prevent the dangers of poisoning and how to react when you think there is a leak.

For further information, please visit their website here where you can donate and read Katie’s story.

For more on this story and many others, follow Mancunian Matters on Twitter and Facebook.

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