Retired Firefighter Poisoned by Carbon Monoxide in Lake Chapala, Mexico
A week ago yesterday we took our children to their long-awaited and much anticipated 6th grade camp in a rural community outside of Guadalajara. We dropped them off, wished them an amazing time, smothered them in hugs and kisses and told them we would be back on Monday afternoon to pick them up and return home to Nayarit as a family.
My husband Frank and I were excited for them and excited for us as we were going to take advantage of them being in good hands and have ourselves a mini-vacation in nearby Lake Chapala, an area of Mexico we had yet to discover in our now nearly five years as permanent residents.
Read TripAdvisor Reviews with Caution
After extensive research on Tripadvisor and Facebook as to what were the best hotels in the Lake Chapala area, we settled on Hotel Villa San Francisco. Looking at their five-star ratings and photos, we liked what we saw and certainly didn’t see anything that would make us question the legitimacy of it being a safe place for my husband and I to stay for the weekend.
We reserved a terraza room (Hollywood) with a view of the lake, thinking we would splurge a bit on this couples only weekend. But at the last minute, the manager Jorge notified us via phone that due to their overbooking that they would need to relocate us to a different, ground-level room (Barroca) at Hotel Villa San Francisco for Thursday and Friday night and then place us at the owner’s personal home/Airbnb Villa Wilshire rental in Ajijic for Saturday night. Although we were initially told by the manager Jorge that we would have the terrazza room at Villa Wilshire in Ajijic for Saturday night, they again needed to move us to a different, ground-level room due to overbooking.
If Frank and I agreed to all of these various room changes, they would “gift to us” a full breakfast instead of the normally included continental one and then put us in our originally desired Hollywood room on Sunday night back at Hotel Villa San Francisco for a reduced rate.
Below is the email I received from one of the Hotel Villa San Francisco staff members informing us in writing of the room change for Saturday night and the full breakfast and discounted Sunday at Hotel Villa San Francisco in exchange for our acceptance of these multiple changes.
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 walking around downtown Lake Chapala and grabbing a bite to eat on this Thursday night after camp drop-off, Frank and I made our way back to the hotel room to get some much-needed rest after our five-hour drive from our home in 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 us leaving the room to have our breakfast on the veranda at Hotel Villa San Francisco and still, no hot water. Clearly, there was something going on with the hot water heater that serviced that Barroca Room.
It was here at breakfast on Friday morning when we first saw the manager Jorge and informed him of the lack of hot water in our bathroom. He told us that “the wind had blown out the hot water heater the night before” and that they would “light it and monitor it throughout the day”.
Monitor? How about maintenance by a certified technician?
We were not particularly smitten with this Barroca Room they had put us in—not just because there was no hot water but also because it was very dark, not what one would consider as being clean (hairs on the bathroom floor not our own) and had a foul smell coming from the shower—so we had requested upon checking in and seeing its conditions, for them to please move us to another room if it became available. The young female receptionist I spoke with on Thursday afternoon regarding this hoped-for room change said she would need to run it by the manager Jorge for an answer on Friday morning.
(*of note, after watching each of the four Hotel Villa San Francisco YouTube videos and submitting a summary and article link below each of them, in not one of them did I see nor recognize the Barroca Room. My opinion, based on the marked difference in the Barroca room’s presentation/aesthetics compared to all of the other rooms shown on the videos, is that Barroca was either an out of service room or one only used for staff or as a storage area…thus the likelihood of the manager/owners having haphazardly attached a temporary, smaller, not properly serviced (and deadly) water heater directly outside of the window on an overbooked weekend.)
We Addressed Our Concerns with Manager
When we informed the manager Jorge on this Friday morning at breakfast about the lack of hot water in Room Barroca and also reminded him that we would still like to be moved to a different room, he went on and on about how it would take at least 20 minutes for the hot water to get back to us in that part of the hotel (Room Safari) that we hoped would be an upgrade from Barroca. Jorge stated that he and his wife lived in that back area of the hotel by Room Safari and how if she were doing dishes, we might not have much hot water or that we would have to wait quite some time for it. We assured Jorge that we would rather have some hot water rather than no hot water. While Jorge didn’t seem so supportive of our request to move from Room Barroca to Room Safari for Friday night, we assured him that we wanted to.
We were told by Jorge that we could move into Room Safari after the current guests left and the room was cleaned. We did ask if we could please see Safari prior to packing up our stuff, and even without it having been cleaned yet from the previous guests, the room, based on aesthetics alone, was so much nicer than the dark, dirty Barroca room we had spent our first night in. We were looking forward to the move even though this put us in a different room for each of four nights.
The two gentlemen that were due to leave this Safari room were also having breakfast on the veranda at the same time we were, and having overheard this hot water conversation with Jorge, came up to our table to assure us that they had had PLENTY of hot water in the Safari Room that we would be moving into.
Frank and I had a lovely breakfast together this Friday morning, enjoying our time and conversation together as a couple. It is very difficult for me to look at the following picture, knowing that it could have been our last meal together.
I mentioned to Frank that I should go to the Barroca Room to get my laptop to get some work done outside on the veranda while we waited for the Safari Room to be cleaned and readied for us, but we instead decided to go back to the room so I could pack up our belongings while Frank got caught up on some work.
We headed back to Room Barroca around 11:00 a.m. and Frank proceeded to work on his laptop for the next three hours while I first showered and then alternated packing up our belongings and resting on the bed on the opposite side of the room, under a ceiling fan as I was beginning to feel like I was coming down with something with a sore throat, burning eyes and a headache.
While we were at breakfast (and after having spoken with the manager Jorge about the lack of hot water), someone clearly must have come to relight/reignite the hot water heater because when I turned the shower on to hot, Frank—sitting down on the small table by the window—heard it “kick in” and called out to me telling me so and yes, I now had hot water.
It was at this point, with the malfunctioning hot water heater now ignited and on, that the activation and expelling of the carbon monoxide fumes clearly began. As Frank was sitting literally to the side of and above the water heater (no more than a foot away) that was outside and on the other side of the window, the CO fumes were coming directly into his respiratory system for 3 hours.
Thank God we didn’t ask to have it checked the night before as the outcome would certainly have been 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 Safari room, that I was tired of being in a dark room on a bright sunny day. Our bags were all packed and we were ready to move them into the courtyard while we waited for the Safari room to be ready.
When Frank stood up from this small window table, now ready to move our belongings out to the patio, within 20 seconds or so of standing, he collapsed onto the bed, stating that he was having severe visual disturbances, nausea and a headache. His eyes were rapidly moving back and forth 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.
Red Cross Arrives
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…in fact he had me hold both of his hands to see if his strength was equal on both sides (which it was) and asked me if his mouth was slanting, which it was not.
I ran out to the hotel lobby in a panic 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. Within a few minutes, he had turned a grey/white color and was on the verge of losing consciousness. When the Red Cross arrived to the room and took his blood pressure, it was 190 over 90 which was clearly reason enough to transport him.
With the Red Cross medics getting Frank on the gurney, I was grabbing any and all of our valuables that I could find and carry in that frightful moment. I went to the table where Frank had been sitting to get his laptop and saw right outside the window where he had been sitting, a smallish, on the ground, hot water heater—hissing and spewing yellow/orange colored flames. I hollered 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!”
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 there and that he had gone to Guadalajara. I told the male employee that answered the phone about my having just seen this yellow/orange flamed spewing water heater and that I suspected that it was the cause of Frank’s life-threatening symptoms.
Hotel Villa San Francisco’s Lack of Responsiveness
This Hotel Villa San Francisco representative CONFIRMED to me during this phone conversation that TWO CARBON MONOXIDE LEAKS had just been found by the person that had 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.
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 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 allowed me to come be by Frank’s side.
Confirmed Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
It all made sense. Frank’s symptoms were every symptom 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 flamed 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 hospital in Guadalajara.
On Saturday afternoon April 29, 2017 at 12:08, I sent the manager Jorge the following email:
Sent: Saturday, April 29, 2017 12:08 PM
“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 (BB for Bella 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,
(name of male owner)”
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 together date.
Katie & Frank O’Grady
Los O’Gradys in Mexico”
On Monday, May 1, 2017 6:04 pm I received this from the female owner:
I then sent both owners on Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 10:25 a.m. the following:
“Good morning (names of owners),
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:
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.
“(names of owners),
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.
Hyperbaric Chamber Treatment
Just Do The Right Thing
I have heard nothing else from the owners nor the management beyond what I have shared here.
My observation is that as a result of it being a busy labor day holiday weekend and their being overbooked, that 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 almost cost my husband his life.
Now 9 days post-carbon monoxide poisoning, Frank continues to get clearer and stronger every day. He will have a couple of more hyperbaric chamber treatments and follow up testing in the hopes that there are no long-term consequences.
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…
I am grateful that I did not have to pick those babies of ours up from their 6th-grade camp on Monday without their Daddy.
A simple and affordable installation of a Carbon Monoxide Detector in the hotel room could have prevented all of this.
Click here for the one we use for home and travel protection.
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