PLEASANT GROVE, Utah — The family of a 5-year-old, who fell ill to chlorine poisoning following a pump malfunction at a local swimming pool, continues to undergo testing at the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit more than 24-hours after exposure.
In a room at the end of the hall in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Timpanogos Regional Hospital, you will find 5-year-old Lucas Burnett, laying in a hospital bed with his mom and dad by his side.
“It was terrifying for us, we were downstairs and the next thing you know they’re like, he needs to go up to PICU right now,” said his mom, Amanda Burnett as she sat next to him on his bed.
Not even 24 hours ago Lucas Burnett, his mom and his three brothers and sisters, were enjoying a day of swimming at the Veterans Memorial Pool.
“It was a great day, we had fun, it was the first not rainy day,” Amanda Burnett said.
Everything seemed fine… until it wasn’t.
“I was confused, it was just utter chaos, kids were laying on the ground crying and I had no idea what happened,” Burnett said.
Within minutes, their day of fun turned into a day of chaos.
“Next thing you know we just see kids coughing and there’s foaming at the mouth and bloody noses, probably 20 or 30 kids that were just like out in the front coughing, wheezing and throwing up,” she continued.
Burnett said she had heard a lifeguard blow a whistle but was never told what was happening. She just started to locate her four kids and get them out of the water.
“Maybe an injury? Maybe someone pooped in the pool? We had no idea,” Burnett said.
According to the city, a chlorine pump had malfunctioned and shut down. When it was turned back on, chlorine that had been backed up in the pump was shot out into the water — people started noticing symptoms within seconds.
“The initial symptoms are very rapid and onset and they start with the eye irritation, the respiratory irritation, the coughing, choking,” said Dr. Micah Smith, an emergency physician at Timpanogos Regional Hospital in Orem.
Burnett said there was a firefighter out front, telling people to go to one side if they had symptoms and the other if they didn’t; she didn’t think any of her kids were impacted.
“I looked at all of my kids and we were all symptom-free,” she said.
“I was like, ‘oh we’re safe, we’re safe,’ and then [Lucas] just drastically went down quick,” Burnett continued.
She said firefighters were spraying children down with hoses, once she saw her son declining she grabbed him and her daughter, who had a sore throat, and got into the area that was being hosed down.
“He’s just looking worse and worse, his eyes at this point were red underneath,” described Burnett.
She was advised to take him to the hospital, “we got him here as soon as possible, with four other kids in the ambulance.”
Given Lucas Burnett’s size, age and history of upper respiratory issues, he was hit hard.
“They started him immediately on breathing treatments, he did multiple breathing treatments,” Amanda Burnett said.
Lucas Burnett was among 26 people, mostly children, who were taken to area hospitals following the incident, but he was one of just a handful of children who had to go to the PICU.
“Children are always more sensitive to chemical exposures, it takes less to affect them adversely,” said Smith.
Smith said symptoms of chlorine poisoning will start to show within 6-hours of exposure.
Those who had low-to-mild exposure could exhibit symptoms of a dry cough, shortness of breath or difficulty exercising for a few days or weeks. Those with high exposure could face long term symptoms, such as asthma, emphysema or prolonged pulmonary treatments.
Lucas Burnett’s parents hope he will be able to return home tonight, but as of now, doctors don’t know how this will affect him long term.
“I’m a little nervous for his future, but he’s a fighter, huh Luke?” Amanda Burnett said as she looked at her son.
Still, Burnett and her husband maintain this scare won’t stop them from going to the pool again.
“It’s not something they could have foreseen that it would happen, it’s a freak accident and that’s why it’s named that,” Burnett said. “But it is something, as a mom, that I am a little bit more aware.”
The health department is conducting an investigation to see what went wrong.
The city does not know when Veterans Memorial Pool will reopen. The pump will need to be replaced and another inspection will need to be completed to ensure it is safe for the public once again.