When a Fort Washington father brought his 2-year-old son Monday night to Children’s National Medical Center, worried that the toddler had fallen out of bed, Shireen Atabaki suspected something else was causing the child’s head pain.
Besides a headache, the boy was also experiencing dizziness.
Atabaki, a medical doctor, questioned the father; he was suffering from a headache and dizziness, too.
Atabaki asked the father to call home to his wife and other children. No one answered. The father then called a neighbor who went to the home in the 8300 block of Bernard Drive. The neighbor found four of the five occupants of the house unconscious.
Prince George’s County officials said what Atabaki did next probably saved the family’s lives: She had hospital officials call county emergency workers.
Firefighters and EMS personnel arrived at the home about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday and quickly sent them by helicopter to a Baltimore hospital, where they were treated with a hyperbaric chamber to speed the removal of carbon monoxide from their blood streams.
The entire family was said to be “doing very well” late Tuesday afternoon, a Maryland Shock Trauma Center spokeswoman said. The ages of the children in the home ranged from an infant to a preteen.
It took less than two hours after the man brought in his son for the doctors to recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. The medical staff realized the boy’s injuries were probably the result of “environmental factors” after interviewing the father about his condition and the home.
“We were very fortunate to recognize the signs so quickly,” Atabaki said. “It happened just in time.”
Firefighters found that carbon monoxide levels in the home had reached 450 parts per million when they arrived at the scene. Anything above 5 parts per million is unhealthy. They discovered that a natural gas furnace in the home was malfunctioning and had probably produced the high levels of carbon monoxide.