On Sunday, April 16, 21-year-old Brenden Dusenberry was found on the floor of his apartment’s bathroom, throwing up and unable to feel his left side. His friends and family hadn’t been able to get in touch with him for 24 hours.
When first responders arrived, they suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. Tests confirmed it.
The source was a new heater for the backyard swimming pool, which had just been hooked up and was stored in the garage below the room where Brenden was living in Utah.
Around midnight on Sunday, his mother, Kristie Dusenberry, who lives in Idaho, got the phone call.
Over the next few hours, she pieced together what had happened.
Her son had gotten very sick over the course of the day. He woke up in the middle of the night, extremely thirsty. When he tried to get up, his left side had gone numb.
“Brenden fell and hit his head on a dresser, then tumbled down the stairs to the bathroom, and that's where they found him,” Kristie said.
Brenden is lucky to be alive, but his road to recovery remains uncertain.
“Brenden’s heart is not fully working right now,” his mother said in April. “His lungs were inflamed when he got to the hospital, and he had to be put in a hyperbaric chamber to increase his oxygen levels.”
According to a GoFundMe page organized for him, he is receiving dialysis treatments to assist his kidneys, and he is slowly improving.
“Brenden also has nerve damage on the left side of his body, and the doctors said it could take up to a year before he can use his left arm again,” Kristie said. “He still can’t walk, and he can’t keep any food or fluids down.”
He joins what is, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a growing number of victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.
This March, the U.S. CPSC released a report that estimates nationwide carbon-monoxide-related deaths associated with consumer products. According to the CPSC, between 2009 and 2019, that number is on the rise.
For example, in 2009, there were 148 total carbon monoxide deaths. By 2019, that number had risen to 250 and still counting because death certificate data from some states can lag for months or even years.
In the most recent three years, the report notes that there were more deaths caused by engine-driven tools (49 percent), a category that encompasses generators, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, etc., than any other category. Heating systems, which includes furnaces, portable heaters, and space heaters, accounted for 28 percent of the deaths from 2017 to 2019. Water heaters accounted for 4 percent. Pool and spa heaters contributed to less than 1 percent.
In fact, according to the CPSC, from 2009 to 2019 pool heaters played a role in exactly 13 deaths.
This number is almost certainly an underestimation.
The Jenkins Foundation, which keeps track of carbon-monoxiderelated incidents and fatalities, has a database of hotel and motel injuries and fatalities since 1967. From 2009 to 2019, they recorded 9 deaths attributed to hotel swimming pool and spa heaters.
It is difficult to believe that over 10 years, only 4 additional deaths were attributed to other commercial and residential pool and spa heaters.
1. Data from the Consumer Product Safety Commission