Local resident credits kitten for saving her life

By: Mark Vest | Farmington Press | Published October 12, 2022

 A  local kitten named Thor helped to save a family from carbon monoxide poisoning.

A local kitten named Thor helped to save a family from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Photo provided by Jill Pines

FARMINGTON HILLS — Farmington Hills resident Heidi Stamper made a decision in June that she now credits with saving her life.

It all started after she saw a picture a friend showed her.

“A friend of ours, their cat had kittens … and she’s like, ‘Oh, my cat had kittens; anybody need a kitten?’ I saw the picture and I was like, ‘I have to have that cat,’” Stamper said.

Stamper decided to allow the kitten to become part of a home that she shares with her husband and two children, Paige, 14, and Quinn, 11.

The name chosen for the new family kitten was Thor, who came to a home that was already occupied by two other pets, a Boston terrier named Lux and a cat named Spencer.

Little did any of the family members know that, not long after his arrival, Thor would be credited with being a hero.

On Aug. 30, there was a power outage at the Stempers’ home, which led to a decision to connect a portable generator in the garage.

The garage door was inadvertently closed while the generator was running, and the family was exposed to deadly carbon monoxide gas, according to a press release from the city of Farmington Hills.

After connecting the generator, the Stamper family went to bed, not realizing the danger they faced.

They would have likely remained unaware of the peril, if it weren’t for the newest addition to the family.

At approximately 3:30 a.m., Heidi Stamper heard Thor “screaming.”

“It woke me up, and at this point I couldn’t move; I couldn’t move my body,” she said. “It was all tingly, and it felt like I was passing out (from) low blood sugar. I was really dizzy. … And I think at that point, I must have tried to get up, but I don’t remember getting up. … But the next thing I know, I’m on the ground in front of my daughter’s bedroom.”

Heidi said that she fell and hit a table, which resulted in a bruise on her chin.

“And when I fell, I guess I was moaning really loud, and that’s what woke my daughter up … and she went and got her dad,” she said. “I could hear their dad on the phone with 911 saying, ‘I think my wife’s dead; I don’t know what to do.’ And I could hear the 911 operator tell him to get me out of the house, so they picked up my arms; I could feel them pick up my arms and drag me through the house to the back porch, which is right outside of our master bedroom. As soon as I hit air, I started to come to and (was) able to move my limbs and stuff.”

After helping lead Heidi to safety, she said, her husband also passed out.

“But at that point, the Fire Department had arrived, and they were coming around the side of the house with a stretcher,” Heidi said. “So somebody was there at that point, which was good.”

The family was originally transported to Beaumont Hospital in Farmington Hills. However, according to Heidi, “There weren’t any hyperbaric chambers in Michigan that were available,” so she, Paige and Quinn were transported separately to Promedica Hospital in Toledo via helicopter.

Heidi’s husband drove himself to Promedica.

A hyperbaric chamber involves breathing “100% oxygen,” with the air pressure inside raised to a level that is higher than normal air pressure, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s website.

Heidi, who is a therapist, had three separate treatments in the hyperbaric chamber, with each one lasting for hours at a time.

She said she watched movies and had a “relaxing time.”

“They said, basically, that when you get carbon monoxide poison, the carbon monoxide eats your oxygen in your bloodstream, and that’s how you end up dying, is because you end up with no oxygen in your bloodstream, so the hyperbaric chamber puts so much oxygen into your bloodstream that it pushes out the carbon monoxide,” Heidi said. “It’s a very interesting process.”

Because their rooms were sealed shut, Heidi said her children weren’t affected as much by the carbon monoxide as she and her husband were.

The family ended up staying at the hospital overnight.

“Everybody’s doing really well,” Heidi said. “It’s just really scary.”

Farmington Hills Fire Chief Jon Unruh shared his thoughts about the “scary” situation the Stamper family endured.

“This is a frightening example of how carbon monoxide can accumulate quickly and potentially be fatal,” Unruh stated via the release. “Fortunately, this incident had a positive ending, but we hope all families will learn from the Stampers and keep their generators outside.”

According to the release, carbon monoxide is tasteless, colorless, odorless and “impossible for human senses to detect.”

The release goes on to state that carbon monoxide builds up quickly and lingers for hours, even after generators are turned off.

Unruh stated that generators should never be used inside homes, garages, basements, sheds or any other closed or partially closed spaces.

“In this case, using a portable generator in an enclosed garage almost had deadly consequences,” said Unruh.

At the time of the incident, the Stampers’ home did not have any carbon monoxide detectors. They have since installed several CO alarms, as have their neighbors, according to the release.

Residents who may need help installing or purchasing a carbon monoxide alarm can call the Farmington Hills Fire Department at (248) 871-2800.

Prior to what happened to her and her family, Heidi thought like a lot of other people probably do.

“Don’t think it can’t happen to you, because it can,” she said. “That’s how I’ve thought this whole time, that nothing like that can happen to me … that happens to other people. But it happens; change your batteries every six months and make sure you have those detectors, because they will save your life.”

Like people, animals can’t sense or detect carbon monoxide, according to forensicdetectors.com.

Heidi discussed what may have led to Thor “screaming” the morning of the incident.

“We had a vet appointment that Friday, after the accident, and the vet didn’t see any signs of carbon monoxide poisoning; he just thinks that maybe he was having a hard time breathing because he was so tiny, and the oxygen was getting squeezed out of his body,” she said.

As unsettling as it can be to think about, Heidi is “100%” confident about what the outcome would have been, had Thor not made his presence known on that Tuesday morning.

“I have no doubt in my mind that I would not be here if it wasn’t for that kitten, and I don’t think anybody really fully understands what that feels like,” she said. “It’s really scary, and especially since my kids’ rooms were sealed shut, the possibility of them not having their mom and dad is really high. … We would’ve been gone, and they would’ve woken up to that, and that’s just terrifying to think about.”

“Thor got two bags of big old treats, and he’s being treated like the king,” Heidi said. “He does naughty stuff, but we’re not punishing at all.”

Despite the word “hero” being used to describe his actions that morning, none of it seems to have gone to Thor’s head.

“He’s pretty clueless,” Heidi said. “He just knows he’s getting fed more; that’s about it.”

According to the release, family friends have established a Go Fund Me site to help the Stampers with medical expenses.

The site can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/the-stamper-family?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=p_cf+share-flow-1.