Sunday 19 November 2017

'Sometimes I wonder why I survived and they didn't' - Man who lost two best friends to Carbon Monoxide poisoning

L-R (Neil McFerran, Aaron Davidson and Matthew Gaw
L-R (Neil McFerran, Aaron Davidson and Matthew Gaw
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

Three best friends went on a weekend away and two of them never came home.

Neil McFerran and Aaron Davidson, both aged 18, died from Carbon Monoxide poisoning after a deadly gas leak occurred while they were staying in a holiday apartment.

Seven years after their tragic death, Matthew Gaw, who miraculously survived, has issued a stark warning about the dangers the odourless gas poses.

Matthew initially thought he had food poisoning and said it felt like "being drunk" as he had "no control whatsoever" over his senses.

"I was feeling very ill on the first day we spent in Castlerock. I just thought it was something I had eaten but in hindsight it was the Carbon Monoxide. As soon as I went outside, I felt better, and when I went back into the apartment, I felt sick, but obviously at the time I didn't know what it was," Matthew told Independent.ie.

He felt better the next day and the three pals continued enjoying their weekend away.

They were due to receive their exam results that week and decided to let off some steam in the Co Derry resort.

"We were playing Fifa, just chilling and having fun. We went to bed later that night and the next thing I knew I was lying on the bathroom floor," he said.

"Carbon Monoxide messes with your senses. People ask me to describe it, and it's really difficult. As I got up from the bathroom floor I banged my head on the door and blood was pouring down my face, but even still, I couldn’t feel it...that’s just a sense of what Carbon Monoxide does to you."

Matthew phoned his parents and they thought he was drunk as his speech was so slurred.

"I wouldn't be a big drinker so my parents were so surprised as they thought I had been drinking. The best way I would describe it is like having a dream and trying to run somewhere, but you can’t run, or trying to scream but you can’t scream because there’s no energy left."

Aaron and Neil's parents drove up to the apartment as they hadn't received any contact from their sons in two days.

One of the last things Matthew remembers is them banging down the door and dragging him outside.

Next thing, he was in an ambulance and what was a half-an-hour journey "felt like two minutes".

"I knew something was seriously wrong because I didn’t see Neil or Aaron. My mum told me in the hospital that they didn't make it, and it was such a horrible feeling. Sometimes I wonder why, or how, I survived and they didn't.

"If someone would have said to me there was a gas leak, my first reaction would have been to think there was an explosion but you don’t think about the fact gas can have such a serious effect on you."

Matthew said he wasn't a very religious person before the incident, but his "second chance" has made him see things differently.

"Life is all about living, it's not just about getting your education, working and dying...I know that now."

Now 25, Matthew said it is important to highlight the dangers of Carbon Monoxide.

"You don't think it can happen to you, but it can".

George Brown, a gas fitter who admitted causing the deaths of two school friends by carbon monoxide poisoning, was given a four-year sentence, two of which were served behind bars.

He was fined £19,000 (€22,700) for a range of health and safety offences.

He said in court that he did not personally install the boiler and flue, but accepted the supply and installation of the heating system was his responsibility.

PhoneWatch, Ireland’s largest provider of monitored household Carbon Monoxide alarms, released statistics for Carbon Monoxide Week showing they are called to incidents on "average twice a week".

Carbon Monoxide Week 2017 runs from 25th of September – 1st of October. It aims to raise awareness of the dangers associated with carbon monoxide. Details of the week can be found on www.carbonmonoxide.ie.

Symptoms of poisoning

On inhalation, CO enters your bloodstream, limiting the supply of oxygen around the body, essentially starving tissue and cells.

A compound called carboxyhaemoglobin in the bloodstream is created that has a detrimental impact on the blood vessels. This can lead to swelling in the brain, causing unconsciousness and nerve damage.

Common side effects also include headaches, dizziness and shortness of breath.

Diarrhoea, general sluggishness and flu-like symptoms can also be attributed to CO emissions.

Once caught in time, short-term exposure to the gas generally leaves no lasting damage.

However, a doctor’s visit is definitely worth it if you think you’ve been exposed at all.

What to do if your alarm goes off?

Turn off all appliances, sockets, and light switches. Open all doors and windows and step outside for some fresh air.

Phone a qualified service agent to come out to inspect and test your heating source and general residence for CO levels.

They will give you all the necessary warning and guidelines to follow until your home is given the all clear. Follow these rules!

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