The Untold Story of Surviving Severe Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

by Sleddoggin Staff on March 1, 2011

Anchorage, Alaska (PRWEB) February 21, 2006

In 1994, while competing in her third Iditarod Dr. Catherine Mormile was severely carbon monoxide poisoned in an unventilated checkpoint shelter tent. The poison caused severe brain damaged, leaving her with an IQ that dropped from 140 to 76, and a broken spirit. After emerging from her coma at the scene of the accident, with no medical evaluation or oxygen treatment, she was put back on her sled to continue for another 4 days by the Iditarod race officials. Traveling in a state of amnesia and impaired physical functioning, she was a public spectacle of dysfunction and haplessness.

Upon returning home, she was treated by some as lazy, incompetent, and disgraceful. She was ridiculed and jeered at in her local grocery store. Catherines friends abandoned her.

However, not one to accept defeat, she chose to write her own story and forge her own path. Following several years of expert rehabilitation at Duke University and more years battling post-traumatic stress, she recovered and moved forward with purpose and dedication.

It took Catherine Mormile 2-3 years to regain her cognitive skills such as reading, writing, simple arithmetic skills, and short- term memory and several more years to repair a shaken sense of self and regain self-confidence. Following her rehabilitation process, she went on to earn her doctorate and publish works in her profession of physical therapy.

Catherine learned that she could help other people by telling how she was poisoned by carbon monoxide. They found comfort and fortitude in her recovery story.

Following the 1-2-2006 Sago Mine carbon monoxide poison accident, which left 12 miners dead, and Randal McCoy, Jr., clinging to his life in a coma, the nation was struggling to make sense of it all and to understand what Mr. McCloy was experiencing.

The Associated Press interviewed Catherine about her experiences. The subsequent article was published in major newspapers throughout the US and in many foreign newspapers.

Several days later, Catherine appeared as a guest on Anderson Coopers 360 Degrees show on CNN. She was asked to speak to the nation of the insidious dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning, and to offer comfort and advice to the McCloy family. She gave special advice on how to speak to an individual in a coma.

Here is an example of what Catherine says as part of her educational effort:

Doctors agree that it is imperative that for optimal start in recovery that the source of the poison be removed and oxygen, preferably pressurized or hyperbaric oxygen be administered. And according to statements made in the January 11, 2006 AP story by Dr. Richard Moon, the director of the Hyperbaric Center at Duke University Medical Center, it is important that these treatments be administered early on to ward off the possibility of delayed effects of the poison. He added that those poisoned by carbon monoxide poisoning can experience bumps in their recovery.

Catherine explains that the recovery process involves mental and emotional challenges:

These bumps in the recovery often appear as: Poor attention span, slowness in ability to process and understand written and spoken materials, difficulty speaking or finding the right words to express, loss of ability to handle or understand things requiring numbers such money or remembering phone numbers, or ones address. There may also be signs of fatigue, anxiety, depression, or mood swings.

Catherine attributes much of her recovery on proper medical therapies. She states that:

Many of these survivors would and do benefit from seeing a doctor who specializes in psychometric evaluations and cognitive rehabilitation. Often psychological counseling for the victim and family will help for all to cope with the life altering effects of this cruel poison. It is important to know and realize that rehabilitation is a slow and challenging process, but it does work.

Catherines message gives opportunity for the Alaska SPCA to remind the public that carbon monoxide poison kills pets as well. Because of relatively smaller body size and dependency upon humans for their well being, pets die from this poison as well. Here is useful information found on

People with heart or breathing problems, babies and small children, pregnant women, and pets can be affected by CO poisoning more quickly than others in the household and may be the first to show symptoms. If your pet suddenly becomes ill or does unexpectedly (not related to age or an existing condition), you should investigate an possible carbon monoxide poison leak-the smaller the animal or person, the faster the CO affects them.

For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning and available resources log on to For information about available hyperbaric facilities in your area or available carbon monoxide poison treatment options call: The Divers Alert Network at Duke University, (919) 684-8111.

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