Ten years ago my brother, Tom Lueders, succumbed to carbon-monoxide poisoning at the Key West DoubleTree Resort. Our dad, staying in the same room, barely survived. Tom was 26 and working in Washington, D.C.
He played soccer with friends, favored a dive bar on weekends, read constantly and charmed everyone he met. He was easygoing, witty and humorous, living life in full force when he went on vacation, and died.
Several hardships resonate as I look back: One, there is not a single moment of the past decade that Tom would have wanted to miss. Two, I hate introducing him as my only brother, who died. It feels like such a failure, always missing the point of who he was, what he cared about and how he spent his time. And three, his death was 100 percent preventable.
I will always feel sweeping anger over Tom’s death. The laws and regulations ignored, and the shortcuts taken facilitated the perfect storm of his death. But regardless of those breakdowns, the presence of a $30 CO detector still could have saved Tom.
Florida law mandates detectors in public lodging establishments with CO sources, and in new housing construction with a CO source, too. My parents helped push through those regulations, enacted in 2007. There are more than 400 accidental fatalities in the United States from the tasteless, colorless, odorless gas annually.
My brother was a young, healthy, vibrant soul. He became so ill, so quickly, that he couldn’t react. This is the danger CO presents. I wish everyone in Key West had had the opportunity to meet Tom, to understand the scope of his life, lost. Instead, I write this in his memory, on a wish and a fragile prayer that another life as cherished as Tom’s will be saved. Protect your family and buy carbon-monoxide detectors for your home, and for travel, today.