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Family continues crusade to inform
public about carbon monoxide

By By Penny Randall / staff writer
October 25, 2003
On Oct. 25, 1998, Judy Dempsey of Meridian lost five members of her family to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Her son-in-law, Michael Johnston, and four grandchildren, Jimmy Hall, 13, Billy Hall, 9, and 4-year-old twins, Robert and Jesse Johnston, died in their home at Naval Air Station Meridian, where Michael, 33, was stationed in the U.S. Navy.
Her daughter, Tina Johnston, was found in a coma and remained in that state for a week before recovering.
Now, five years later, Dempsey and her other daughter, Samantha Henry, remain as adamant as ever about their mission to educate the public about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Since the tragedy, Tina has moved to Tulsa, Okla., to live with her sister, a volunteer with the American Red Cross and speaks often on the subject of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Since the deaths of the Johnston family, NAS Meridian has installed carbon monoxide detectors in all base housing units. Maintenance and inspection procedures have been modified for housing units that still use natural gas. Inspections are more stringent and performed more frequently.
The Whole House Renovation Projects, valued at about $25 million, have been funded and are currently ongoing, officials say. These projects will completely renovate 310 housing units and construct 47 new units.
In both the renovation and the construction projects, electric appliances, heating ventilation and air conditioning systems will replace natural gas appliances.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 2,100 people died last year due to accidental carbon monoxide exposure and 10,000 sought medical attention. Appliances fueled with gas, oil, kerosene or wood may produce carbon monoxide. Symptoms of poisoning may include headaches, dizziness, nausea, muscle aches, shortness of breath and fatigue.
Dempsey said her family had all those symptoms prior to their deaths.