Mills-Peninsula Newsroom

Local Carbon Monoxide Leak: The Story Behind the Headline

On Thursday, November 8, 2012, KCBS News’ Holly Quan reported on the evacuation of a Burlingame hotel due to a carbon monoxide leak. The news report offers details of the scene and actions of the first responders. But who notified the first responders? That’s the Mills-Peninsula part of this story.

A patient was brought to the Mills-Peninsula Emergency Department from the Embassy Suites Hotel, where he had checked in after arriving at the San Francisco Airport. In the ER, the patient was unresponsive and showed symptoms of a possible stroke or aneurysm. (The identity of the patient is private and protected by HIPAA.)

Drs. Lim and Molander were interviewed by ABC TV’s Reporter Vic Lee and Cameraman Chris Hewett.

The ER team ordered a diagnostic CT scan of the patient which was sent to Greg Lim, M.D., chair of radiology at Mills-Peninsula.

“I was working that night and read the scans for the patient,” Dr. Lim explains. “A specific area of the brain was abnormal – it was symmetrically shaped, which is not consistent with stroke or aneurysm. I’d only ever seen a teaching case of carbon monoxide poisoning but the scan looked exactly as I remembered it from the lecture. I went out on a limb and diagnosed it as carbon monoxide poisoning, which was confirmed by my ER colleagues.”

It was Karin Molander, M.D., the Mills-Peninsula ER physician on this case, and AMR paramedic Lon Adams who alerted the Fire Department to the carbon monoxide risk.

“I felt like I was in an episode of the TV show ‘House,’” said Dr. Molander. “It took the combined minds of many people to figure out this uncommon case and act for the patient and the community.”

The Fire Department ordered the immediate evacuation of about 500 guests at the Embassy Suites Hotel then discovered the carbon monoxide leak was coming from a defective boiler. According to the Fire Department, the building was ventilated and guests were let back in the hotel around dawn.

The out-of-the-box thinking and quick reaction by radiology and ER doctors protected the lives of the 500 guests and employees at the hotel.

“As radiologists, often times we do our work in quiet dark rooms and people don’t recognize the big impact we have on public safety and patient care,” said Dr. Lim.

Mills-Peninsula serves as the major receiving hospital for most emergencies on the Peninsula and is the official destination for emergencies at the San Francisco International Airport. On an average day, this award-winning Emergency Department team treats more than 115 patients, administering critical care for stroke, heart attack, car accidents, sports injuries, poisoning – or any medical or psychiatric emergency.

“I’m very happy that more people weren’t hurt,” Dr. Lim said. “I grew up in this area and went to San Mateo High School. I moved back from Southern California because I wanted to take care of my family, friends and neighbors.”

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