Tired and ready to head home from a mission trip with some fun thrown in, a group of adults and minors from Tanglewood Bible Fellowship packed their vans and trailer and were making their way home when something happened which could have led to a tragedy.
Shawna Mitchell, adult supervisor, and her husband James, the youth pastor, originally took the youth to South Dakota where the group was doing home repairs and mission work on the Sioux reservation.
“On the way home we stopped by Mt. Rushmore and the badlands. Everything had gone great,” she said. “Saturday we were leaving our hotel, stopped for lunch — after lunch about 45 minutes later my husband, who was driving a van with a trailer and I was right behind him in another church van, pulled over.”
Mitchell said she thought it was strange because the group had just come from lunch.
“As soon as he pulled over I saw all the boys just piling out of the vehicle and stumbling around — almost like they were drunk — very disorientated, confused, laying down on the ground, throwing up,” she said. “I ran over to them and asked what was going on and my husband told me he was feeling very nauseous, sleepy, and he was getting blurred vision and felt like he needed to pull over.”
James said that was when he saw all the boys asleep in the van.
Mitchell said she called 911 and the Burger King at the rest area gave them a cool place to wait for emergency services.
“The paramedics came and tested everyone, tested their oxygen level and triaged them there at Burger King because there was a ton of them — all the teenaged boys and adult men were in that van,” she said. “Everyone tested for carbon monoxide poisoning and their levels were extremely high.”
According to a McPherson Fire Department statement, 10 were ferried to Via Christi Saint Francis hospital in Wichita, Kansas. EMS from surrounding counties stepped in to get everyone transported.
“Thankfully, my husband, instead of just trying to fight it (realized) something was wrong and had to pull over, otherwise — I can’t even imagine,” Mitchell said. “For me personally, my husband and two sons were in the car.”
Mitchell said sleeping teens after a mission trip is the norm although her own son had texted her saying he didn’t feel well.
“Carbon monoxide was leaking into the air conditioning system. Somehow, some sort of mechanical problem — we still don’t know yet,” she said.
After everyone was treated, the group stayed in Kansas once more night and with the help of church members got home to Duncan Monday afternoon.
Mitchell said everyone was so kind; the staff at the restaurant, 911 operators, the EMS workers, the fire department and the hospital.
“You don’t think about carbon monoxide in your vehicle. My husband said ‘everyone was sleep,’ when I told that to the doctor he said ‘No, everyone was passed out already,’” she shared. “As adults, when we are on a mission like that … we kind of tend to push through and thankfully he said ‘I can’t’ — your limit is your limit and you have to recognize that. I think when people travel like this they don’t and push a little too far.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel.
Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:
• Dull headache
• Nausea or vomiting
• Shortness of breath
• Blurred vision
• Loss of consciousness