Leongatha family’s narrow escape from silent killer
By Danika Dent
RACHAEL Simpson’s heart sank when her 10-month old baby, Juhkobi, was handed to her last week, limp and seemingly lifeless – a silent killer was present on their 30 foot cruiser.
The Simpson family’s holiday to Lakes Entrance was supposed to be a relaxing time for Rachael, her husband Wade and their five children.
But it nearly turned to tragedy.
It was only thanks to son Kohdie’s obedience did the family survive a horror holiday.
The Leongatha family had been in Lakes Entrance on the boat for three days in near perfect conditions, but it all went wrong on Tuesday morning.
While Rachael and Wade were upstairs getting breakfast ready, 10 month old Juhkobi, who had been unwell with an inner ear infection, whimpered.
“Juhkobi and Kohdie were on the bed, playing and I heard a little cry from Juhkobi and I told Kohdie to bring him up,” Rachael said.
“Thank goodness I did, because usually Kohdie would happily settle him on his own, but Kohdie brought him up to me and as I took him in my hands, Juhkobi’s eyes rolled to the back of his head and he went all floppy.
“At first I thought it was because of his ear infection, and I handed him to Wade, and that was it – he went unconscious and I knew immediately something was very seriously wrong.
“Kohdie was sitting at the table and he was completely grey.
“He was incoherent.
“He tried to get a glass of water that was sitting on the table, and his arms wouldn’t move.”
Somehow Rachael managed to supress the panic she was beginning to feel to send 10 year-old Khye to Wade’s dad’s boat for help.
Wade’s dad, Leo, immediately recognised the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning and the family was transferred to Leo’s boat for the half kilometre race back to the Lakes Entrance jetty while Rachael called an ambulance and attempted to keep the two boys conscious.
At the jetty the family was met by paramedics, SES, CFA, Coast Guard and police.
The air ambulance helicopter was also called from Melbourne.
Rachael jumped in the ambulance with Juhkobi, while Kohdie and Khye were in another.
Wade was heartbreakingly left at the jetty.
Wade had to deal with the boat and emergency crews while his wife and children were transferred to Bairnsdale Hospital.
It wasn’t until the family were all in hospital that the true seriousness of the incident hit home.
The two boys were put on hi-flow oxygen for nine straight hours and doctors were on high alert.
“The doctors said afterwards that if Juhkobi had been down there 60 seconds longer, we would’ve lost him and we would’ve lost Kohdie in two minutes,” Rachael said.
Juhkobi and Kohdie were kept in hospital for 24 hours, while Khye, who had been exposed for just a couple of minutes, was discharged at lunchtime with a slight headache.
It could well have been a family tragedy on that Tuesday morning.
Known as the silent killer, carbon monoxide poisoning is deadly – but it all could’ve been avoided.
“Carbon monoxide detectors should be compulsory on all boats,” Rachael said.
“We spend a lot of time on the boat and we’re always so careful – the kids have to wear lifejackets all the time, but you just don’t think of carbon monoxide.
“It’s the last thing you expect.”
Following the shock of the morning, the family reflected on the cause.
“The engine had to be put on to get hot water going for breakfast, and because there was just the tiniest hint of a breeze, it blew the carbon monoxide back into the boat,” Rachael said.
Being heavier than oxygen, the two boys who were on the lower levels got the full brunt of the odourless gas.
“They’d only been down on the lower level for 10 minutes, it just happened so quickly.
“I’m so proud of Khodie that when I called, he listened and came straight up.”
Wade and Rachael are holding their children extra close now.
“We could’ve lost our kids,” Rachael said.
“It really makes you prioritise – spend as much time with your kids, things can change in the blink of an eye.”
It certainly put the broken freezer, to which the family returned home to on Saturday, into perspective.