Two years ago this April we took our children to their long-awaited and much anticipated 6th grade camp in a rural community outside of Guadalajara. We wished them a good time, smothered them in hugs and kisses and told them we would be back on Monday afternoon to pick them up.
My husband Frank and I were excited for them and excited for us as we were going to have ourselves an adventure-filled weekend in nearby Lake Chapala, an area of Mexico we had yet to discover.
Read TripAdvisor Reviews with A Grain of Salt
After extensive research on TripAdvisor as to what were the best hotels in the Lake Chapala area, we chose Hotel Villa San Francisco. Looking at their five-star ratings, we certainly didn’t see anything that would make us question the legitimacy of it as being a safe place for us to stay. (See bottom of this post for a TripAdvisor review posted 7 months after Frank’s CO poisoning, speaking of yet another boiler problem at HVSF. )
After Frank’s carbon monoxide poisoning at Hotel Villa San Francisco, TripAdvisor kept taking down our first-hand accounts of the incident. After multiple re-submissions with Red Cross, Hospital & Hyperbaric Chamber pictures, diagnosis, treatment and discharge notes, they atlas left them up. Frustrating, dismaying, and shocking to say the least.
Overbooking on A Holiday Weekend
We had reserved a terraza room with a lake view, but at the last minute, the manager of HVSF notified us that on account of their having overbooked on a holiday weekend that they would need to relocate us to a different, ground-level room (Barroca) for Thursday and Friday night and then again move us to the owner’s personal home/Airbnb Villa Wilshire in Ajijic for Saturday night.
Being that it was labor day weekend and that we could not find any other available rooms in either Lake Chapala nor nearby Ajijic, we agreed to these various changes to secure a reservation.
After dinner that first night, Frank and I returned to the hotel to get some much-needed rest after our five-hour drive from Nayarit. Although we were very much looking forward to a hot shower before calling it a night, there was no hot water and so a quick cold one it was.
The following morning, Frank showered prior to breakfast and still, no hot water.
We Notified The Management
It was here at breakfast at HVSF on Friday morning when we notified the manager Jorge of the lack of hot water in our room. He told us that “the wind had blown out the hot water heater the night before”, that they would “light it and monitor it throughout the day” and that they had been, “having problems with it”.
Monitor it? Had been having problems with it?
We were not particularly smitten with this Barroca Room that they had bumped us to—not just because there was no hot water but because it was dark, dirty and had a foul smell coming from the shower—so we had asked the receptionist for them to please move us to a different room if one became available.
Frank and I had breakfast together this Friday morning, enjoying our time together, grateful that our children were nearby at their 6th-grade camp. It is painful for me to look at the following picture, knowing that it could have been our last meal together.
After breakfast we returned to the Barroca room so I could pack up our belongings (in anticipation of our room change) while Frank got caught up on some work at the window-side table.
CO-Leaking Hot Water Heater Right Outside Window
For the next three hours, Frank worked while I showered and then alternated packing up our belongings and resting on the bed as I was beginning to not feel well with a sore throat, burning eyes and a headache–all symptoms of the first stages of CO exposure.
While we were at breakfast, after having spoken with the manager Jorge, someone came to reignite the hot water heater for when I turned on the shower to hot in the hopes of now getting a hot shower, Frank–who was working next to the window where just on the other side was the hot water heater–heard it “kick in”. He called out to me telling me that I should now have hot water, and while it never got hot, it was at least warm.
It was at this point, with the malfunctioning hot water heater now ignited, that the activation and expelling of the carbon monoxide poisonous gases began. As Frank was sitting literally to the side of and above the water heater (no more than a foot away), he was inhaling these CO fumes for 3 hours.
Thank God we didn’t ask to have the heater checked the night before as the outcome would certainly have been far worse for both Frank and I after a full night of breathing in the carbon monoxide as we slept. Thank God our children were not with us.
I told Frank that we should go wait outside in the garden while they finished the cleaning of the room we were to be moved to, that I was tired of being in a dark room on a bright sunny day, and feeling like I needed fresh air. Our bags were all packed and we were ready to move them into the courtyard.
When Frank stood up from this table where he had been working, he collapsed onto the bed, stating that he was having severe visual disturbances, nausea and a headache. His eyes were rapidly moving side to side and he was having great difficulty focusing and responding to me.
Needless to say, I was terrified, not having any idea what was occurring other than that it was very serious.
Was he having a heart attack? Was he having a stroke? He had no chest pain and he was not exhibiting any of the symptoms of a stroke…the strength in his hands was equal on both sides and his mouth was symmetrical. What could be happening?
Red Cross Arrives
I ran out to the hotel lobby and asked the front desk staff to call for emergency help. Running back and forth between the room to check on Frank and to the lobby to see if an ambulance had arrived yet, Frank’s symptoms continued to worsen. He was turning a grey/white color and losing consciousness. When the Red Cross arrived to the room and took his blood pressure, it was 190 over 90.
With the Red Cross medics getting Frank on the gurney, and me grabbing any of our valuables that I could carry, I went to the table where Frank had been sitting to get his laptop and saw right outside the window, an on the ground, hot water heater—hissing and spewing yellow/orange colored flames. I called this out to Frank as we were leaving the room, “Oh my God Honey, there is a water heater right under where you were sitting with yellow/orange flames!”
Once at the Red Cross in Lake Chapala, I phoned Hotel Villa San Francisco, asking to speak to the manager Jorge but was told that he was not available. I told the employee that answered the phone about my having just seen this yellow/orange flame spewing water heater and that I suspected that it was the cause of Frank’s condition.
Hotel Villa San Francisco’s Lack of Responsiveness
This Hotel Villa San Francisco employee CONFIRMED to me during this phone conversation that TWO CARBON MONOXIDE LEAKS had been found by the person that had just come out to look at it.
I asked them to please send someone from the Villa right away to the Red Cross to explain this to the doctor that was treating Frank, but no one from Hotel Villa San Francisco ever showed up. In fact, in the first 30 hours post carbon monoxide poisoning at Hotel Villa San Francisco, in spite of my multiple phone calls and emails amidst managing the critical care of my husband, NO ONE—not the manager nor the owners of Hotel Villa San Francisco responded to me nor reached out to offer a helping hand, nor to see if my husband was dead or alive. Furthermore, the rest of our belongings–2 suitcases and our car–were still at the hotel.
It was only upon my telling both the manager Jorge and the owners (whose contact information I had to hunt down through their Airbnb profile) that I would go public with our story that I received the following email from the owner on Saturday, April 29th at 8:46 p.m.
I do find it interesting that an owner of a five-star hotel that serves so many guests did not have the ability to access both our phone and email information from the management when that very information was requested upon making our reservation.
My response to the owner on Saturday, April 29th at 10:37 p.m.
When we arrived at the Lake Chapala Red Cross via ambulance on Friday afternoon, I was not initially allowed back into the room with Frank. I asked the doctor and staff to please allow me to be by my husband’s side, that not only was he not coherent enough to speak for himself, but that I needed to translate for him and explain the chronology of circumstances that led up to his symptoms.
After the confirmation by the hotel staff that indeed two carbon monoxide leaks had been detected in the hot water heater right outside the window where Frank had been sitting for three hours, I shared this information with the Red Cross Doctor and he then allowed me to be by Frank’s side.
Hospital Confirms Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
It all made sense. Frank’s symptoms were every one of carbon monoxide poisoning—visual disturbances, nausea, vomiting, blood pressure issues, confusion, headache, exhaustion, difficulty hearing and responding. The confirmation by the hotel of the two CO leaks, my sighting of the yellow/orange flame water heater, Frank’s symptoms and the doctor’s diagnosis all matched up. Now we knew what we were dealing with. The Red Cross Doctor immediately ordered Frank to be transferred to a private hospital in Guadalajara.
On Saturday afternoon April 29, 2017 at 12:08, I sent the manager Jorge the following email:
“Buenas tardes Jorge,
Como ya saben, mi esposo Frank se intoxicó con la fuga de monóxido carbón del calentador del agua. Los médicos siguen tratando de salvarle la vida. Necesito que me mandes de inmediato los datos de los dueños para ponerme en contacto con ellos. Siguen guardando las maletas y cuidando nuestra camioneta Ford 150 que está en la calle enfrente. Paso hoy para ellos.
Los O’Gradys in Mexico
xxx-xxx-xxxx (my cell phone)“
“Good afternoon Jorge,
As you all already know, my husband Frank was poisoned with the carbon monoxide gas leak from the hot water heater. The doctors are still working to save his life. I need you to immediately send to me the contact information of the owners so I can be in contact with them. Continue keeping the suitcases and an eye out for our Ford 150 that is on the street in front. I will come today for them.”
When I arrived at the hotel on this Saturday, I walked into Room Barroca to double check that none of our personal items were left behind, and guess what? They had removed the hot water heater that had been directly below the window just a day before. Gone, no longer there.
Jorge and various other staff members were sitting in the courtyard right outside the Barroca Room, perhaps waiting for my arrival since I had notified Jorge that I would be coming up, and not one of them acknowledged what had happened, inquired as to whether or not my husband was dead or alive, offered an apology nor expressed any concern. Nothing.
I opened our suitcases to make sure everything was there and asked them to make a copy of our reservation showing that we had in fact stayed in and paid for that one night in Room Barroca.
On Sunday, Apr 30 at 11:44 AM I received this message from who I am assuming to be Jorge since it was written in Spanish and came directly from the same email address he had used to correspond with me previously during the reservation process.
Por favor acepte mis disculpas por todas las molestias incluyendo la demora a su contestacion, pero le aseguro que estamos muy preocupados, pero hemos estado ocupados realizando nuestras propios inspecciones e investigaciones con el fin de encontrar una explicacion a esto, le aseguro que nos comunicaremos con usted tan pronto nos sea posible.
Elegancia en la Ribera de Chapala
Hotel Villa San Francisco agradece su preferencia”
“Please accept my apologies for all of the bother including the delay in response to you, but I assure you that we are very concerned, but we have been busy doing our own inspections and investigations with the point of finding an explanation to this, I assure you that we will be in touch with you the soonest possible.”
On Monday, May 1, 2017 4:41 pm I heard from Anthony, one of the owners:
You very much do deserve to be treated as kindly and as efficiently as possible, and I do acknowledge that it may not seem that that has been the case. However, you may be assured that everything possible has been done from the perspective of the hotel. A huge part of the challenge has been that we are out of the country, and we are dealing with the cancer death of a close family member who was too young to have died. This, plus other stresses too involved to detail here, have made things extra difficult. Further, being a holiday weekend in Mexico has made it especially difficult to get professional assistance.
That said, our main problem was the issue of carbon monoxide poisoning itself. Given that we take great care to maintain our systems at full operating efficiency, I was quite stunned to learn of your husband’s apparent difficulty. It was only last month that we spent $6500 doing regular boiler maintenance, and replaced regulators, and did thorough cleanings. And in fact, in over 2000 nights of operations, with therefore 20,000 room nights of guests, such an issue has never once occurred. Furthermore, the boiler is many feet to the side of the window, and is in the complete open air, and in fact is operating perfectly, at least as far as Proteccion Civil has confirmed on being immediately asked to inspect on Friday. Please understand that your use of the words “gross negligence” feels exceptionally harsh when measured against our actions, both recent and in the immediate aftermath of your husband’s very unfortunate incident.
You indicated that the water heater was suddenly “moved” by us! I can assure you that absolutely nothing was ever moved. It was placed there years ago, and is still there.
Katie, I am as anxious as you to be sure of what happened, but please understand that while my sympathy could not be greater, my genuine concern over the cause remains. We are continuing to investigate, but it will be difficult during the holiday weekend.
I shall contact you when I have further information. In the meantime,
My response to male owner on Monday, May 1, 2017 7:42 pm
Thank you for responding.
The fact of the matter is, there WAS a much smaller, gurgling, spitting, malfunctioning with orange flames single unit hot water heater directly outside the Barroca window looking DOWN directly onto the ground, NOT the one to the left where the larger hot water heater is.
When we checked in on Thursday night April 27, 2017 there was no hot water in the Barroca shower nor the following morning of April 28, 2017 when my husband showered prior to 10 a.m.
In fact, the condition of the Barroca room when we first entered, with hair on the bathroom floor not our own, an old failing mirror with poor visibility, run down shower doors and a foul smell from the shower, made us wonder if the room was only used for emergency over bookings or for your staff and therefore not maintained in a public rental standard.
We left the Barroca room for breakfast on the veranda on the morning of 4-28-17 where we spoke to Jorge about the cold evening and morning shower who stated that ‘”the wind had blown the pilot out” and that they would be “monitoring it throughout the day”….monitoring, not having an authorized technician check and fix it. He said he would keep us informed.
He then went into a lengthy explanation as to how the hot water would take a very very long time to get back to the Safari room where we were to be transferred to as soon as it was ready post cleaning.
We assured him we would rather have SOME hot water than NO hot water.
Jorge was doing his best to convince us to stay in Barroca but we assured him we wanted to be moved to a different room even if that meant we would literally be moving every single day of our 4 night stay due to the complications of overbooking on the part of your staff.
One of these nights was to be at your Villa Wilshire where we were told we would be placed on the terraza level, but again, due to overbooking, were moved to a ground level room.
We were offered a full breakfast instead of the continental and a reduced fee for our last night in Hollywood if we were to agree to the multiple room changes which we did.
Jorge went on to tell us about how he and his wife live in the back and that if she was doing dishes, there might not be hot water or that it could take up to 20 minutes for the hot water to get there and other various comments about hot water issues on site.
The 2 gentleman clients sitting at another table came up to assure us, in spite of Jorge’s narrative about the limited and long taking hot water in the Safari room, that in fact they had had plenty of hot water during their stay in Safari.
After breakfast, we went directly back to Barroca. When I turned on the shower to take my shower, my husband HEARD the small hot water heater ignite and begin to heat, as he was sitting right next to it at the table and window.
I then alternated between packing up our items and resting on the bed on the opposite side of the room/window under the ceiling fan.
My husband Frank did not move from the small table by the window where he worked on his laptop for nearly 3 hours, thus getting a direct hit from the carbon monoxide fumes coming in through the window.
When I phoned the Villa from the Red Cross on Friday April 28, 2017 at 3:28 pm, the male hotel representative that I spoke to on shift CONFIRMED that TWO carbon monoxide leaks had been found in the water heater and that they “had fixed it”.
I suppose the entire removal of the water heater constituted “fixing it”..???
I pleaded that they send someone from the villa to the Red Cross but NO ONE showed up. I was told during that phone call that Jorge was not on site, that he had gone to Guadalajara.
It is insignificant to me that this has not occurred in your previous 20,000 guests. What is significant to me is that this did happen to my husband.
Perhaps your manager Jorge can explain to you what alterations or problems they were having with this now removed small water heater when you were not in the country.
Lastly, there were NO actions taken in the “immediate aftermath” by you, Roseann, Jorge nor anyone representing Villa San Francisco. In fact MORE than 30 hours had passed when I finally heard from Roseann after stating to she and Jorge via email that I would bring our story to social media to inform and hopefully protect others.
With your being out of the country during the time of this incident, perhaps you are not aware of whatever modifications your manager Jorge did or did not do and/or communicate to you.
That is your responsibility as the owner.
I have provided you with sufficient information.
Tomorrow when I am more rested from this trauma I will put together the rest of the paperwork including copies of all expenses up to date.
Katie & Frank O’Grady
Los O’Gradys in Mexico”
On Monday, May 1, 2017 6:04 pm I received this from the owner Rosann:
I then sent both owners on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 10:25 a.m. the following:
“Good morning Anthony & Rosann,
At any point since my husband’s carbon monoxide poisoning in room Barroca at Villa San Francisco on Friday 4-27-17 (not Saturday 4-28-17) morning, you could have obtained my email from your manager Jorge or had Jorge provide me with yours, thus not needing to go through Airbnb, clearly.
Your staff witnessed what happened and I phoned the Villa from Red Cross while there fighting to save my husband’s life.
NO ONE contacted me in the first 30 hours post incident. NO ONE!
If Jorge did not inform you until Saturday that is just unconscionable. Although your husband mentioned knowledge of it on Friday 4-28-17.
If Proteccion Civil did an inspection on Saturday, a full day later, it was on a different hot water heater, not the one that nearly caused my husband his life.
The one with the carbon monoxide leak had been removed from where it originally was, directly below the Barroca only window.
It was there on Friday when the poisoning occurred and not on Saturday when I returned to retrieve our items and car and took photos.
I’m sure Jorge could explain the removal of the offending water heater.
While your own health challenges and the loss of a family member are unfortunate and a priority to you, you and your husband have an ultimate priority as business owners operating a facility that rents rooms to the public to be responsive and responsible.
“You are sorry about my husband’s health” is hardly an acknowledgment, apology nor statement of accountability.
I am attaching for now both the Red Cross and Hospital’s diagnoses of Carbon Monoxide Intoxication.
While we are not interested in going the legal route at this point, we are interested in a formal apology and recuperation of all of our expenses including the one night at Villa San Francisco resulting from this nightmare.
Katie & Frank O’Grady”
*sent with the following four attachments taken by my phone while still in Guadalajara:
Hyperbaric Chamber Oxygen Treatment
I then sent the owners of Hotel Villa San Francisco the receipt with letterhead from the Doctor of the hyperbaric chamber facility where Frank received two 90 minute sessions.
Wednesday, May 3, 2017 @ 2:12 p.m.
“Anthony & Roseann,
Attached please find the receipt for the two hyperbaric chamber treatments my husband Frank O’Grady received to aid in the detoxing of his body from the carbon monoxide poisoning that occurred at your Villa San Francisco in Lake Chapala on Friday, April 28, 2017.
I will be sending the other various receipts of charges incurred to save his life in subsequent emails.
Just Do The Right Thing
I have heard nothing else from the owners nor the management beyond what I have shared here.
Perhaps on account of it being a holiday weekend and their hotel overbooked, they connected this small, temporary, and obviously malfunctioning water heater up to the outside of Room Barroca so as to not have a larger demand on the other water heater(s).
Clearly, only the manager Jorge and the owners of Hotel Villa San Francisco can speak to this addition/modification—a deadly one that nearly cost my husband, our children’s Daddy, his life.
Now nine days post poisoning, Frank continues to detox from the effects of the carbon monoxide. He will have a couple of more hyperbaric chamber treatments and follow up tests in the hopes that there are no long-term consequences.
A simple and affordable installation of a Carbon Monoxide Detector in the hotel room could have prevented all of this.
Needless to say, we will now be traveling with portable carbon monoxide detectors and advocating for others to do so too.
Giving thanks for this precious, fragile life…
*Feel free to share our story, in the hopes of saving just one life. Information is power. Information is protection.
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Apparently we weren’t the only ones that had hot water heater problems at Hotel Villa San Francisco in Lake Chapala: