After their daughter almost died from carbon monoxide poisoning, a Valley family wants summer vacationers to do more than kick automobile tires before they gas and go.
Paul and Vickie Womacks said a doctor told them they were fortunate their then 2-year-old daughter awoke after breathing what should have been a lethal dose of carbon monoxide from their leaking exhaust system on their 1990 Isuzu Imark.
"Tori had been sleeping and woke up having a seizure," Vickie Womacks said. "She'd never had a seizure before. It was a nightmare."
The Womackses took three medical detours en route to visit Ohio relatives. They said their daughter's first of three seizure episodes struck as they entered Tennessee, shortly after leaving their Trinity home.
"We stopped at a gas station and noticed a clinic across the street," Vickie Womacks said. "We had her checked out at the clinic, and she was fine."
Thinking the episode isolated, the Womackses continued their journey.
"About 20 minutes later her eyes rolled back into her head, and she started gritting her teeth," Paul Womacks said. "An ambulance carried us to Vanderbilt Hospital."
Doctors kept Tori overnight, and Paul and Vickie, who was pregnant with their second child Byron, stayed in a Nashville hotel room.
"The hospital did a CAT scan and all the tests they could think of," Paul Womacks said.
The next morning, the Womackses resumed their travels, making it to Elizabethtown, Ky., before Tori's seizures returned. Paul Womacks spoke with his brother, and the Ohio mechanic told him to check his exhaust system for leaks.
The Womackses said they compounded the problem, thinking their burning eyes and headaches were caused from allergies, so they kept their windows up and used the air conditioner.
"A piece of the tailpipe had fallen off," Paul Womacks said. "Doctors checked Tori for carbon monoxide poisoning, and said she had 17 percent in her body. They said that was enough to kill two adults."
Vickie said doctors found a 14-percent carbon monoxide concentration in her blood and 11 percent in Paul's.
"They put all three of us in a hyperbaric chamber for about 90 minutes and kept us overnight for observation," Vickie Womacks said. "They said most people just go to sleep and don't wake up."
Paul Womacks took their car to a repair shop the following morning. "I see it all the time," said Chuck Swain, owner of Decatur's Midas Muffler Shops since 1985. "Carbon monoxide doesn't have a smell, but a car is porous and the fumes go right up through the body and make people sick."
Swain said carbon monoxide poisoning is more of a problem in the winter and summer months when windows are raised, and the poisonous gas accumulates more on long trips.
"It goes from the trunk right into the back seat," Swain said. "And if you start getting sleepy, that's a sign. It's usually not a problem with newer cars, but older cars, especially if they've been wrecked, could have crimped pipes."
Swain said he doesn't charge for an exhaust inspection.
"If the car needs work, we'll give them an estimate," Swain said. "There's no obligation."
The Womackses, who now live in Tuscumbia, said they haven't suffered adverse effects from the trip, and that Tori hasn't had a subsequent seizure.
© 2004 The Decatur Daily News, Alabama, United States.