$15 to Save a Life

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Here is an amazing guest post from Elizabeth Bryan, the co-author and co-inventor of the Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings book and game.  I was horrified and amazed when I heard of Elizabeth’s near-death experience… and incredibly moved by her simple call to action.  Here’s Elizabeth!


I wanted to share how one everyday decision saved my entire family’s life – and can save yours. It’s the decision to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home today. It’s one of those things you never think to do, mostly because you don’t believe being poisoned by CO can happen to you. But it happened to me, your average working mom and our family of 11 (including the dogs and cats!). 

Slade, me and Wyatt

Boomer,Buttercup and Buddy

Carbon monoxide poisoning is completely preventable yet kills hundreds of people each year and sends tens of thousands more to ER’s nationwide. It’s actually the leading cause of accidental poisoning in our country.


It was a freezing cold New York winter when all the windows were sealed tightly shut. I had a six-month-old baby and a teenager, and we were all feeling really sick – bad headaches, nauseous, foggy; the works. The little one was very cranky and sleeping a lot (which was completely out of character), so I hauled everyone off to the doctor. “Just the flu,” the doctor said.  “Go home and get some rest.” 


I decided to take advantage of the down time and go through some boxes in the basement. Glancing up in the direction of the hot water heater, I noticed that our CO detector was disengaged from the ceiling, hanging from its wires. I grabbed a ladder and popped it back in. Instantly, the beeping began – loud and terrifying.  In that moment, I realized we did not have the flu: my entire family was being poisoned by carbon monoxide.


I ran through the house, yelling to the babysitter to help me get both kids outside for fresh air. The gas company arrived about an hour later, and confirmed what I already knew – anyone in the basement for any length of time would have already been dead. And, as the colorless, odorless gas rose to the upper floors of our home, we were about to become yet another unbearable tragedy.


We found out later that a workman in our home had heard the detector go off weeks earlier and had pulled it from the ceiling, thinking that the batteries needed to be changed. He never told a soul – and, had we all died, I wouldn’t be able to share this story with you and prevent senseless deaths, making the whole experience one huge ‘blessing-in-disguise.’


Many other incredible things came out of the whole thing, like doing my best to look on the bright side of every experience. My appreciation for life and my family increased a thousand-fold. I also try to never leave any interaction on a negative note, as you never know if you will have the chance to make amends.


There are so many things in this world that are out of our control – dying from CO poisoning is something we can control. I always say that installing a detector is “the most inexpensive way to prevent a death.” From your stove to your heater and your dryer, you can’t imagine the variety of year-round ways you can be exposed to CO. Holidays are around the corner – we’ll all be cooking and entertaining, with many of our windows shut to keep out the cold – it’s more important than ever to keep our loved ones safe. Please visit www.firstalert.com to get educated on all the risks and learn whether your state requires you to install a detector in your home. But don’t do it because it’s the law – do it for your family!



  • kathleen @ the daily crumb October 26, 2011, 4:29 pm

    what an important lesson. thank you for sharing, caitlin and elizabeth.

  • AmandaonMaui October 26, 2011, 4:38 pm

    I’m so glad her family is safe. I’m so glad they found out. It kind of makes me really happy to live somewhere that I don’t have a heater or air conditioner. I have my doors open all of the time to the fresh air. However, there are days where we can get to feeling like her family did because sugarcane burning can blow those nasty fumes all around the island up the mountainside.

    Wherever you are, if you use heaters or not, be good to yourself and your family. Don’t worry about the little cost of something like a carbon monoxide tester. Get it, get whatever you need to protect your well being and the well being of your family.

    Much love.

  • Ashley @ Good Taste Healthy Me October 26, 2011, 4:43 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am appalled by the workman’s behavior. It is so upsetting that he would just disconnect something and never tell anyone!

  • Kristina @ spabettie October 26, 2011, 4:43 pm

    Caitlin THANK YOU for sharing this HUGELY IMPORTANT and very easy thing. We have one in our house, and it is because a family we know is not here now because of this. the whole family died at their vacation home last winter, such a horrific thing.

    thanks for sharing!

  • Alayna @ Thyme Bombe October 26, 2011, 4:57 pm

    Yikes. We’ve been meaning to pick up a CO detector for the house we just moved into, it just moved up to #1 on my priority list. Thanks for this very helpful reminder.

  • Sarena (The Non Dairy Queen) October 26, 2011, 5:04 pm

    Oh my gosh, now I’m freaked out! I need to get a CO detector now. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Katie @ Peace Love and Oats October 26, 2011, 5:07 pm

    Great story to share! CO poisoning has always freaked me out and I got a detector right when I moved into my apartment!

  • Annette @ EnjoyYourHealthyLife October 26, 2011, 5:08 pm

    WOW. So glad she and her family are safe and alive–and here to share this with us so WE can all prevent this. Definitely checking on this–thanks!

  • Mary @ Bites and Bliss October 26, 2011, 5:25 pm

    That is such a scary thing. I can’t believe so many people are killed by it yet it’s so preventable. It’s a shame. Glad to know you and your family’s safe. 🙂

  • Juniper October 26, 2011, 5:28 pm

    don’t even have a detector!

    just ordered one from amazon! 🙂 thanks for sharing this….. and I’m glad everyone is okay. <3

  • jennifer October 26, 2011, 5:42 pm

    Wow! I can’t believe a worker disconnected it and didn’t tell anyone. I guess not only should you install one but make sure to check it periodically to make sure it’s working.

  • Moni'sMeals October 26, 2011, 5:42 pm

    Such a great post and reminder and story. So relieved the family was ok. Man, scary stuff for sure.

  • HTPDad October 26, 2011, 5:52 pm

    I was at a picnic a few weeks ago and some (self identified) Tea Partier was ranting about how The State was “forcing” him – requiring by code, I think is the legal term – to put in CO detectors in new construction. When he ran out of breath, the woman across from him quietly told of how CO detectors had saved her families lives. His comeback? If she choice to live in rentals, it was her choice to carry one with her.

    Nutball. And that’s disrespectful to scrotums everywhere.

  • Rosa - Fitness, Food, Fulfilled October 26, 2011, 6:05 pm

    This story terrifies me. I installed a CO detector as soon as I bought my place and luckily it has never gone off, but it scares me that my family could be wiped out without us ever being aware.
    I’m so glad Elizabeth noticed the detector. And that worker should have his license revoked and charges pressed against him.

  • Samantha @ Mama Notes October 26, 2011, 6:06 pm

    great post!

    We have one in our home, but I need to look into it more and find out if we need one on each level and if it needs to be in a certain place or if anywhere is fine. By a door/windwo, behind a bed/bookshelf/couch, etc..

  • Gina @ Running to the Kitchen October 26, 2011, 6:13 pm

    Wow. This brings some perspective to 4 nights ago when at 5:30am I was awoken to the sound of our smoke detector beeping. The battery was low. It was a piercing beep that no matter how many doors I closed made it into our bedroom and wouldn’t let me fall back asleep. Our detectors are hard wired into the house so taking the almost dead battery out did nothing to stop the noise. I was furious at the time, cursing, waking up my husband and telling him to “DO SOMETHING! I need to sleep!” and in the end, ended up driving to the gas station down the road at 6am to buy a 9V battery to shut the thing up. Lesson learned…I should be thankful that thing wouldn’t shut up.

  • Jacalyn October 26, 2011, 6:35 pm

    She’s absolutely correct. No one thinks this could happen to them. This has never crossed my mind and even while I was reading it I thought, “nah. We dont even use our heater. Wouldn’t happen.” I can’t afford to think like that. I don’t even know if our house has a CO detector. I will talk about this with my husband when he comes home tonight. Thank you for sharing!

  • Jen October 26, 2011, 6:42 pm

    Very important message! Thanks for getting it out there 🙂 We rent an apartment in a large building and it’s honestly never occurred to me to get a CO detector for our unit because I didn’t think it was an issue here…I need to look into this further. My dad was a former firefighter and he always had a CO detector in the house and was anal about making sure its batteries were good (as well as the smoke alarm batteries).

  • Hannah October 26, 2011, 6:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing. My boyfriend and I are in a new rental apartment. I just went around our place to see if we have a CO detector and it looks like we don’t!!!!!!!

    I explained this post to my boyfriend & we’re going to buy a detector – especially because we’re in a garden level (basement) apartment!


    Caitlin, while I watch other blogs fade away with the same mundane posts every day, you never fail to bring up a GREAT and IMPORTANT conversation. THANK YOU!

  • Army Amy* October 26, 2011, 8:18 pm

    Yikes! Scaring! I am going to check my CO detector stat!*

  • Liporidex October 26, 2011, 9:40 pm

    Wow! Amazing story. I cant believe that the handyman could have made one snap judgement (then forgot to follow up) that could have changed your families’ lives forever. Makes me pissed. So happy you guys are ok. I’m going to check ours right now!

  • Marissa C October 26, 2011, 9:46 pm

    Great post! My husband always takes our smoke detector off the kitchen wall (it’s overly sensitive and goes off every time I open the oven door) and never remembers to put it back on. Drives me nuts.

  • Karolina October 26, 2011, 9:59 pm

    How scary! I know someone who has serious memory problems due to this type of poisoning, and having her ask me every few minutes again who I was made me realize how simple this is to prevent (and how scary it can really be)! I have a detector in my apartment.

  • cookie October 27, 2011, 1:53 am

    This doesn’t happen a lot in Germany (thank god!). We have laws which require a yearly control of the chimneys and gas furnaces and everything that belongs to it by a chimney sweeper. Glad nothing bad happened to you and your family.

  • Sophie @ threetimesf October 27, 2011, 6:38 am

    It’s so good to read that you are all safe – thank you so much for sharing this story 🙂

  • Natasha October 27, 2011, 10:40 am

    I’m a little late, playing catch up but wanted to say that I’m happy you are here to share your story! I think it’s a great reminder. We have one on each floor of our home that plugs into our electrical outlet 🙂

  • Anne P October 27, 2011, 12:19 pm

    Holy shit. That’s insane that she randomly saw it last minute. What a streak of luck. Scary!!! Now I need to make sure everyone I know has one of these.

  • Amber K October 27, 2011, 1:21 pm

    Wow, I had to share this on Facebook because people really don’t think about this! I know I didn’t. So glad everything turned out okay.

  • Sonia (the Mexigarian) October 27, 2011, 2:37 pm

    It’s the law in CA (as far as I know) that homes with gas power MUST HAVE CO detectors, including rentals and such. I’m terrified of living in a home with gas outlets, like mi abuela and my mother in law, but they do have the CO detectors now.

    A few weeks ago, Hubby and I were woken up at 4am by our smoke alarms going off. When we thankfully discovered there wasn’t a fire, and we pulled the alarms off so they’d only chirp, I asked him if the detector also was for carbon monoxide. Not wanting to take the chance, he called our fire department and they came out to make sure everything was ok. Luckily, the detectors were only for fire and they were just bad (the firemen recommended getting new ones so our apartment complex got us some the next day) but it’s great to know that a simple $15 detector may save someone’s life.

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