AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin police sergeant will continue to receive full pay and all of his medical benefits as he recovers from carbon monoxide poisoning. The city agreed to extend Sgt. Zachary LaHood’s leave of absence for another year.
“They did the right thing,” said LaHood’s attorney Brian Chase, who also represents other officers in Central Texas and nationwide affected by carbon monoxide leaks in police vehicles.
LaHood was injured in the line of duty last March when his Ford Explorer police cruiser started leaking carbon monoxide. He said he became light-headed, nauseous and developed cognitive difficulties, headaches and blurred vision.
“I remember feeling a headache,” said LaHood during an interview with KXAN last summer. “A dull headache at first from the front of my head.”
Doctors say symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning also include dizziness, weakness and shortness of breath.
La Hood, who joined the force in 2004, has been on leave recuperating since then. His existing benefits do not stretch past this month, but the city’s extension covers up to another year of leave. LaHood said he plans to return to work once he is medically cleared by his doctor.
Doctors say the more exposure to the deadly gas, the longer it takes to get back to normal.
“You basically choke to death,” said Baylor, Scott and White Emergency Room Director Dr. Ross Tobleman.
Tobleman said his staff sees most carbon monoxide victims during the winter months when people are using heating appliances incorrectly.
The deadly gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless. Tobelman said the way it kills is by depriving the body of nutrient-rich oxygen. When the gas flows into the lungs, it fills up the air sacs and binds quickly to red blood cells that carry oxygen to the organs.
“It’s not necessarily the carbon monoxide itself,” he said. “It’s a lack of oxygen.”
Experts say long-term exposure to the tasteless, odorless gas can cause numbness, unexplained vision problems, sleep disturbances, and memory loss.