CO poisons couple after snow blocks furnace vents

Snow had drifted over the furnace vents outside the house of Arnie Schweiss, 93, and his wife Velma Schweiss, 90. That forced carbon monoxide back into their home.

It all happened last Monday, on one of our colder days of the year. It was already a bad day. The couple was supposed to attend the funeral of one of Velma’s sons. Arnie was awakened by an early morning call.

“If it hadn’t been for the phone call we probably would have died,” he said.” Arnie’s son had called to tell him his granddaughter had just died of cancer. “My granddaughter is the one that saved our lives,” Arnie said. “I started getting woozy and dizzy and stuff and I thought, ‘What’s the matter?'”

He said he fell asleep on the couch and woke up again. “Then I got up and was going to walk to the kitchen and I could barely walk anymore.” They weren’t alone in the house. Another son of Velma’s had stayed overnight. Arnie, knowing something was wrong, called 911. Then he started opening windows and woke his wife and son-in-law who both also had a hard time moving.

“He opened the bathroom window and the wind blew a big blast of fresh air in and oh did that ever feel good. And I wanted to get over there and get another breath of that fresh air.”

They all made their way out of the house, out into the cold. First responders were there quickly and put them into ambulances.

While Velma’s son was treated and released in New Ulm on the same day, Arnie and Velma were sent by helicopter to Hennepin County Medical Center where they stayed for two days. They were given hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the hyperbaric chamber.

They are so grateful for that early morning phone call and for Arnie being able to sense something was wrong. “Some of the nurses at Hennepin said that he was a very brave man and a lot of people called him a hero,” said Velma.

Now that they’re back home, they’re breathing easier. They chose to have their 22-year-old furnace replaced.

They would like to thank all the first responders and medical personnel who helped them recover and the heating company that installed their new furnace so quickly.

The couple did not have a carbon monoxide detector.

“Didn’t have one then but we got them now,” Arnie said.

Their advice for others? Keep your furnace vents clear of snow and keep working carbon monoxide detectors on your wall.

Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas. That’s why it’s so important to have detectors.

Minnesota state law requires homes to have a carbon monoxide detector installed within 10 feet of every bedroom.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, weakness, shortness of breath, confusion, vomiting and blurred vision.