Patricia and David Ivie were what you would call active seniors. Patricia was an equestrian, and David was a consultant to the oil industry in Texas and a competitive skeet shooter. The couple enjoyed a host of outdoor activities together, including travel.
They were parents of four and grandparents of nine, and on August 23, 2017, they left their home near Fort Worth and traveled to the Texas panhandle for a family event. They checked into a Best Western in the town of Perryton and settled into Room 217, anticipating a normal, routine overnight hotel stay.
Within four months, that stay would cost them their lives. As their son, Buck Ivie, describes, “Since that day, our world was turned upside down and forever changed.”
On the morning of August 24th, a hotel housekeeper heard an alarm sounding in the Ivies’ room. She entered the room and found the room’s carbon monoxide detector going off. She discovered Patricia in the bed and David face down on the floor near the bathroom. Both were unconscious. They were transported to a nearby hospital where they were diagnosed with carbon monoxide poisoning. The hotel was evacuated, and several other hotel guests and staff members were found to be sick from carbon monoxide poisoning, requiring medical attention.
Less than an hour later, the Ivies were airlifted to a larger Northwestern Hospital in Amarillo.
“The doctors were pretty quick to test for CO because given the circumstances, it felt like it couldn’t be a lot of other things,” Buck said. “My parents had CO levels of 28% and most likely higher than that before they were tested.”
The fire department responded to the hotel and found “substantial levels” of carbon monoxide in areas of the hotel, most notably in the second-floor rooms. In a room just down the hall from the Ivies’, the guests who had checked out that morning had taken the batterypowered carbon monoxide alarm off the wall and placed it on the nightstand with a note stating that the alarm went off at 3:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. and added that the battery needed replacing.
It did not take long for investigators to find the source of the carbon monoxide. Located directly below Room 217 was a utility room containing the pool heater, which was connected to a corroded exhaust vent pipe. Each time the pool’s heater would turn on, deadly carbon monoxide gas would escape from the rusted-out pipes and flow into the guestrooms above.
Further investigation found the pool equipment room also had an inoperable exterior exhaust fan and a boarded-up fresh air intake. Pool chemicals were found stored in the room, too, which had contributed to the corrosion of the vent pipe. Subsequent air testing in Room 217 with the pool heater running showed carbon monoxide levels steadily increasing and finally peaking at more than 1,200 parts per million (ppm). (For comparison, the OSHA permissible exposure limit for carbon monoxide is 50 ppm. OSHA standards prohibit worker exposure to more than 50 parts of carbon monoxide gas per million parts of air averaged during an 8-hour time period.)
The Ivies’ case is unique among hotel carbon monoxide incidents because the hotel did have carbon monoxide alarms in the guest rooms per a Best Western requirement enacted in 2014.
It is unclear when the alarm in Room 217 first sounded, if it continued to sound, and why it didn’t sound in time to alert the Ivies to the lethal danger surrounding them or for the hotel staff to respond sooner.
Both Patricia and David survived the incident initially, but it was only the beginning of a terrifying and horrible ordeal for the couple, Buck and his wife, Terri, and the rest of the family.
From the beginning, Buck has been determined to tell his family’s tragic story as often as possible. He insists on publicizing it so that others will be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
“Our story, and any CO poisoning story, still does not get enough attention,” Buck says, his soft voice now forceful, “because CO poisonings just keep happening.”
Buck was at work in Midland, Texas, when he got the phone call — his grandmother told him the news. She said that his sister was already on the way. He arrived in Amarillo the following morning, having left immediately.
Buck said it was horrifying to see them at first. They were both intubated in the ICU and on full life support. They both had bloated, swollen bodies, tubes going into their mouths, and they were both in a coma, with wires coming out of them. While it is now common to provide hyperbaric oxygen to carbon monoxide poisoning victims, neither David nor Patricia received the treatment. The nearest hospital with that technology was a three-hour flight away.
“Plus, we were told that they couldn’t do HBO because my parents were already intubated,” Buck said. “I don’t know about that.”
No one knew if the Ivies would survive. Buck said that he wondered every day if he’d find his parents in their rooms when he came to visit at the hospital. They spent a total of 28 days in the Amarillo hospital.
“My parents were alive, but it was scary, because the doctors told us that the first 48 hours would be uncertain because it takes time for the CO poison to leave, and it’s like another dose of it as the poison moves through the body and is released again,” Buck said. “I know now that the CO was damaging their brains and all their organs. The doctor told me it’s always a guessing game. And the nurses — well, they were learning as they went along, just like I was.”
Patricia remained in a coma, nonresponsive, for about seven days before waking up. David woke up about 12 hours after his wife.
“At that point, we were relieved,” Buck said. “The fact that they woke up at all was incredible. We were told by all the doctors that no one survives that level of CO poisoning.”
And at first, Patricia seemed normal, except the right side of her face wasn’t working. David was in slightly better shape — he seemed much more normal and in control.
“I told my dad to not try to talk because had the intubation tube still, but he said, ‘Hell with that, I want a Coca-Cola,’” Buck said. “That’s when I thought, OK, that’s him, that’s my dad, and he’s going to be just fine.”
But Patricia needed a lot of help. She couldn’t walk or feed herself. She had a lot of physical therapy and other therapies, but she never walked another step on her own and never fed herself again. Buck says that mentally, she reverted to being like a 5-year-old child in everything she did or said. She called everyone “Momma.”
It was incredibly difficult for the family to watch, and it was only the beginning. Patricia declined fast.
“Before we left Amarillo, me and my sister and some family decided that this is her time,” Buck said. “Both my parents lost their appetites and didn’t have any interest in eating. The doctor spoke to us about putting a feeding line in Mom and we said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’ We agreed it was time to let her go.”
The family chose to get hospice care for her, where she remained childlike. After about 18 days, she died, on October 18th, two months after the incident. Patricia Ivie was 58.
Meanwhile, David Ivie was a totally different person than he had been before the incident. He was still somewhat functional, and he was able to walk. But mentally, he regressed to a 13- or 14-year-old. He’d seem aware sometimes and could have conversations, and then suddenly, he’d snap.
“He’d go off and become so strange and weird,” Buck said. “He’d talk about flying planes and trips to the Congo and snakes — and none of that was real. He thought the poisoning he had was because a snake bit him.” Buck says he was like an Alzheimer’s patient. He’d have a good grasp of what was happening, but then his hallucinations became wilder and more frequent, and he became more and more violent. It was heartbreaking for the family to watch.
The Ivies did all they could to get help for David. They decided he needed the very best medical doctors, so they took my him to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
“They basically told us he was too far gone and there was nothing that could be done to help him,” Buck said. “We had Dad in memory care at a couple of different nursing homes. But he was difficult to care for because he was increasingly agitated, irritable, and aggressive.
After losing Patricia, it was two more months of torture, watching David wither away. He lost 75 pounds, had those horrible hallucinations and more memory loss.
“We brought him to our house and arranged hospice care,” Buck said. “One time, he asked my wife, Terri, why they didn’t just let him die. It was proof that as difficult as the last weeks were for us, watching him deteriorate, he was also tortured mentally himself.”
Buck said it would have been better if his parents had never awakened.
Buck works in the oil and gas industry, as did David and his grandfather. The family has been in the business for generations. Buck was always close with his father. He calls David his hero.
“And I watched him go in a matter of days from a really kind, nice man, to being violent, racist, and mean.”
David Ivie died just before Christmas,December22nd.Hewas62.
Buck says that the biggest mystery in all of this is why they survived at all. It was a heavy, lethal dose of carbon monoxide poisoning. The medical staff said they would never wake up — that it was insane to imagine they would survive that and be responsive. And yet they did.
What came next was the lawsuit, which was settled before it was heard by a jury trial. Buck said it was complicated because there were a number of parties involved and a lot of finger-pointing: The hotel, the heater company, pool company, and more. It took about a year.
For the Ivies, the lawsuit was meaningful because they insisted that their story, their case, be highly publicized. They are still very vocal and insist that all their records are public. They fought hard for that. They want their case to be used because they don’t want this to happen to others. They believe that they have made an impact, but they want to have more.
“There needs to be a national, forcible mandate,” Buck said. “CO detectors should be legally required in every hotel room and regularly inspected and certified. They have to be maintained. They’re no good if they’re not working properly!”
The family believes that hotels should be solving the carbon monoxide problem.
“Electric motors for swimming pool heaters should be mandated, and corrosive chemicals in the same room as the heater equipment causes greater corrosion of pipes, and it has to stop,” Buck said. “Also, mandated regulations for CO detectors and maintaining them. They weren’t doing their jobs of testing CO detectors and making them safe. No proper procedure was followed.”
The experience was incredibly painful for the entire family. David and Patricia left behind four children and nine grandchildren. Even their own parents had to watch them die. Buck says that one of his family members had such mental stress that “he’s really just gone crazy.”
Today, the entire family travels with portable carbon monoxide detectors, and several of them have indeed had their detectors go off. One family member and her fiancé were in a rental apartment and the hot water heater was broken. Her carbon monoxide alarm saved their lives.
Buck and Terri continue to write to their legislators, share their family’s story, and ask for carbon monoxide protection legislation. They’ve only received standard responses so far, but Buck says he’s not giving up.
“I’m going to continue to push,” Buck said. “Because I know and I have to tell others.”