STOW — This year, Matt and Amy Knabe will celebrate their first Thanksgiving as parents with their 10-month-old daughter, Lennon.
It’s a holiday the Stow couple almost didn’t see — they nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning in their home last Thanksgiving.
"We're just really, really thankful. I think we were really, really blessed. I think God had favor on us that day because that really could have gone very, very quickly in another direction,” said Matt, a 41-year-old Hudson native and mental health therapist in Akron. “This could have been a very deadly experience, and we're very, very fortunate that obviously, it didn't go that way.”
The couple, high school sweethearts who broke up for about 20 years before reconnecting about five years ago, planned to travel to Amy’s parents' house for Thanksgiving dinner that afternoon before traveling to Youngstown to celebrate the holiday with Matt’s family.
Amy, a 39-year-old Tallmadge native and stylist at Beauty Lounge East in Brimfield, was seven months pregnant at the time. When she woke up around 5 that morning, she felt “horrible,” with a migraine and nausea.
Amy attributed the symptoms to her pregnancy with their baby girl, who was conceived via in vitro fertilization. She went downstairs and turned the house’s heat down, thinking it might make her feel better, before falling back asleep downstairs. When she woke up around 7 a.m., she still felt off. Amy checked on her husband upstairs and found out he felt the same way.
Amy planned to take a shower to see if it made her feel better. Matt, who felt dizzy, nauseated and confused, went downstairs and called his dad.
“I couldn't think of 911. My brain wasn't working,” he said. “But I had my iPhone, and I saw my dad, I saw his picture, so I was able to go, 'Something's wrong.'"
Sometime after that, they both passed out for a short period of time — Matt downstairs, Amy upstairs. Somehow, they both woke up.
A responding firefighter would later say it's a miracle they did.
"That's not normally what happens," the firefighter told them. "You don't wake up."
When Matt’s dad couldn’t reach his son again by phone, he came over to the house and immediately called the Stow Fire Department, who arrived by around 9 a.m.
At first, Matt thought he was in better shape than Amy and planned to ride in the ambulance with her. But while talking with paramedics in the driveway, his legs gave out, and he fell down.
“I couldn't remember just normal stuff," he said. "I knew my brain wasn't functioning at all at that point."
Amy and Matt were taken to Cleveland Clinic Akron General. Amy said they both had “lethal levels” of carbon monoxide in their blood and were treated with pure oxygen.
Matt was released after about 12 hours, but Amy had to stay for several days because she was pregnant. Her doctors considered flying her to a Pittsburgh hospital for treatment, but she ended up staying in Akron.
"We had Thanksgiving at the hospital,” Amy recalled. Relatives brought them Thanksgiving dinner.
As they recovered, the couple worried about possible effects on their unborn baby. Doctors weren't sure what effects the carbon monoxide exposure could have on the fetus or the pregnancy overall.
"That's the scary thing ... They actually didn't know until she was born if she would have sustained any damage from it," Amy said.
Doctors continued to monitor Amy and the baby at additional appointments in the following two months, and Lennon was born Jan. 20.
Although she was born with an unrelated hole in her heart, a doctor gave Lennon a clean bill of health related to the carbon monoxide exposure almost immediately after her birth.
Amy said she’s thankful their daughter hadn’t been born yet last Thanksgiving.
“If she would have been alive, she probably wouldn't have survived the levels,” Amy said.
Matt and Amy learned the furnace in their house, which they’d moved into the previous October, had malfunctioned.
When Amy turned down the heat that morning, it likely saved their lives.
“It ended up shutting it off, so it didn't blow [the carbon monoxide] anymore,” she said.
Making home safer
By the following Saturday, a crew had come in and replaced the furnace, and the family was safe to live there again. Now, the couple have carbon monoxide detectors “everywhere,” they said in unison, something they encourage everyone to do.
While they were in the hospital, nearly every staff member they spoke with immediately purchased a detector after hearing their story. And Matt’s dad went house-to-house in his neighborhood telling the story and encouraging people to get detectors.
"Amazon saw a spike in carbon monoxide detectors that weekend,” Matt joked. “We had to have sold a couple hundred of those things.”
Stow Fire Chief Mark Stone said residents should have carbon monoxide detectors on each floor of their home, especially outside sleeping areas. They shouldn’t be located near gas-producing appliances, which could cause false alarms, or windows, which could cause inaccurate readings.
Carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors should be replaced every 10 years. They should be checked weekly and vacuumed monthly to remove dust. Stone said there are many options available for carbon monoxide detectors, including dual smoke-carbon monoxide detectors.
"I can't stress the importance enough to spend a little bit of extra money, get a good CO detector, good smoke alarm system,” Stone said. “If you have to spend $40 for a CO detector, you have to think of it as that's $4 a year for insurance.”
Stone said carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that "tends to sneak up on people." He said it's created by a lack of complete combustion in gas-powered appliances, like furnaces, water heaters or dryers.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide exposure include dizziness, nausea, headache and vomiting. A late-stage symptom, which Stone said appears when it’s too late, is “cherry red” skin. Extended exposure can lead to death.
"Initially, it will present itself as though you have the flu,” he said. “It a lot of times tricks people as far as their exposure to it.’"
Children and pets are more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning, Stone said.
So far this year, the Stow Fire Department has responded to 43 carbon monoxide incidents. In 2017, the department responded to 44 incidents. Most happen in cold weather, especially when people are turning their heat on for the first time in the fall, Stone said.
Stone encouraged residents to have their furnaces and other gas-powered appliances checked regularly, especially before using furnaces for the first time each fall.
"You could be sleeping at home, in bed, and your furnace could be putting out carbon monoxide, and you're not aware of it,” Stone said — which is what happened to the Knabes.
Matt and Amy are looking forward to spending their first Thanksgiving with their miracle baby — eating turkey and visiting family, not making a trip to the hospital.
“All in all, we really came out unscathed,” said Matt, pulling Lennon closer as she giggled. “Now we got this bundle of joy.”
Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, email@example.com and @EmilyMills818.