NEW?ULM - Arnold Schweiss of New Ulm says working is what keeps him alive.
At age 93, Schweiss learned Monday morning that recognizing the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning kept himself, his wife and stepson Steve Harder alive.
An early morning telephone call from a relative in Ohio got Schweiss out of bed. The caller informed Schweiss of a death in the family.
A short time later, Schweiss realized that he was dizzy. His wife Velma and his stepson Steve Harder, who had stayed overnight with them, also experienced dizziness and nausea - symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Suspecting something was horribly wrong, Schweiss told his wife and stepson to leave the house. "My wife, she could hardly walk no more" said Schweiss, who operates Arnie's Sewer and Septic Tank Cleaning Service at 1018 N. Broadway, the residence where the incident occurred.
Schweiss called 911. Police, city crews and Allina ambulances arrived.
At the scene, city utilities staff verified the presence of high levels of carbon monoxide in the residence. Gas Department personnel ventilated the house to reduce carbon monoxide concentrations and improve oxygen levels, according to a New Ulm Public Utilities news release.
The three were taken to New Ulm Medical Center where they boarded helicopters for the emergency transfer to Hennepin County Medical Center for treatment in the Hyperbaric Center.
"We each got our own helicopter," Schweiss said.
After a 25-minute ride to HCMC, Schweiss, his wife and Harder each spent two hours in the hyperbaric center for treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room. This treatment speeds the replacement of carbon monoxide with oxygen in the blood.
"They're doing everything," Schweiss said about 6 p.m. Monday, referring to the care from the medical staff at HCMC.
"We're doing fine," said Schweiss. He, Velma and Harder expected to stay overnight at HCMC for additional monitoring. He was not certain when they would be discharged.
The suspected source of the carbon monoxide entering the house is a problem with the venting pipes from the furnace to the outside.
The incident is under investigation. New Ulm Police said a possible cause was snow blocking a furnace exhaust vent pipe that may have caused it to go into an air intake pipe.
The house must be thoroughly checked before Arnie and Velma can return home.
The house did not have a carbon monoxide detector. "We'll buy one now," Schweiss said.
Schweiss, who is just shy of six years away from being a centenarian, says he is semi-retired and works 14 hours a week with his sewer and septic business. He is known in New Ulm for displaying statues of a half dozen or so horses and a concertina player in his front yard. Ads for his business, which once stated on call for "24 hours, if available," also attracted attention.
Monday's close call did not affect Schweiss's enthusiasm for living and working. "I'm ready to go," he said. That's what keeps me alive."