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An Oklahoma mother speaks about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in the open air following the tragic death of her 9-year-old son.
On June 6th, Cassandra Free of Broken Arrow, Okla rejoiced. And her family for a fun day at Lake Eufaula. Free’s family and a family friend spent the day tubing and wake surfing on the water, but towards the end of the day Free’s youngest son, Andrew Brady, passed out and fell into the lake, never waking up.
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In an interview with TODAY Health, Free recalled that all three sons, including 15-year-old Jonathan and 13-year-old Blake, complained that they were not feeling well. When the family docked, Andrew “crawled onto the back of the boat and curled up in a ball.”
“We’ve packed and cleaned up and the kids are moaning that they’re not feeling well, they just want to take a nap,” Free said. “My husband raised Blake, my middle son. When he tried to get Andy, the boat just rocked and Andy rolled away. My husband said “what the fuck?”
Andrew, who had been a strong swimmer, did not move or try to swim when he fell. Free’s husband, Brett, and her family friend immediately jumped in to rescue him.
“They found him again, but he never breathed again,” Free recalled. “They apparently did CPR forever before the emergency services came. Doctors said there is no brain activity. Even if they had got a single breath, there would have been no quality of life. “
According to Free, someone suggested testing their eldest sons for carbon monoxide poisoning. The results showed that both Jonathan and Blake had acute carbon monoxide poisoning, which prompted the medical examiner to test Andrew as well.
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“His values were 72 carboxyhemoglobin, which means that 72 percent of his blood could not carry oxygen to his brain. That led to brain death, ”explained Free.
The 9-year-old’s carbon monoxide level was so high that doctors told Free that he was “already gone” when he fell into the water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), carbon monoxide poisoning occurs in the open air when gasoline-powered boats (as well as onboard generators) vent the odorless, colorless gas to the rear of the boat.
Idling or driving slowly can lead to carbon monoxide build-up, which Free said the family ignored when traveling on Lake Eufaula with a long no-wake zone that required the frees to slow down.
To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning while boating, the CDC recommends swimming and playing in areas where engines vent their exhaust gases and to avoid blocking any exhaust gases that could cause buildup. By educating all passengers of symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, closely monitoring all children at the stern of the boat, and avoiding them within 20 feet of an idle boat, you can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning from occurring.
The CDC reports that early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.
In August, Free took to Facebook to warn others about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in the open air. Though news outlets initially reported that Andrew had drowned, Free wrote that she was waiting for autopsy reports before correcting the record.
“He was on the back of our Malibu skier most of the day. Even moving boats create an exhaust gas withdrawal. That’s right. Exactly what I put in: carbon monoxide comes out of the stern of the boat and pulls right back into the stern area of the boat, ”she wrote. “Backseat drivers are especially vulnerable at low speeds and in long no-wake zones like the ones we had to cross to get back to the docks.”
Free announced TODAY that the adults who were on the boat on the day Andrew died had more than twenty years of boating experience but were unaware of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
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Free has called the life since Andrew’s death a “nightmare” – but she hopes that by sharing his story she can help prevent another family from experiencing a similar tragedy.
“Andy should grow up and save the world,” she said. “He still can. He can never grow up, but he can still save the world. His name will forever be tied to the life he saved. This has become my mission. To make sure that no mother is in my shoes. “
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