Sunday, December 10, 2006

YARMOUTH, Maine -- A 57-year-old oxygen patient who fell asleep while smoking started a fire and was convicted in November of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a 7-month old baby who died in the burning apartment building.

Unfortunately, oxygen patients continuing to smoke is not unusual, say providers.

"I call it a silent crisis," said Les DeFelice, president of Wheeling, W.Va.-based DeFelice Care. "It happens repeatedly based on that tobacco addiction."

Authorities have attributed a spate of recent deaths and injuries to fires cause most likely by smoking oxygen patients. For example:

* A bedridden, 47-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., grandmother died Oct. 30, steps away from her front door.

* A 68-year-old woman in Xenia Township, Ohio, died Nov. 18.

* A 51-year-old man in Kingsport, Tenn., died Nov. 6 after his elderly mother frantically tried to get help when he became engulfed in flames.

* A 69-year old Arbor Heights, Wash., woman was found dead near the front door of her home Nov. 16.

* A woman on oxygen died and her nephew was critically injured in a fire near Clonmel, Kansas, Nov. 13.

Providers constantly educate patients and their caregivers on the dangers of smoking, said Heather Mangold, director of business development for Oxygen One in Waukesha, Wis. Delivery techs watch for and document discolored tubing, dirty ashtrays and other indicators of smoking, she said.

"If we see signs or have problems, we typically fill out a safety education form and remind them of the dangers," said Mangold. "It goes in their records and they get a copy."

It's not just smoking that patients need to be aware of, said Jodi Aiken, respiratory director for Amherst, N.Y.-based Associated Healthcare and owner of STOP!signs, which produces durable, static-cling oxygen-in-use warning signs. At this time of year, propane, wood and pellet stoves, furnaces and candles heighten fire dangers.

"Stress the safety and let them know they are putting themselves at risk," said Aiken. "You don't want to offend them, but let them know you're concerned for them. You can't be the oxygen police."