When Sheletta Brundidge heard about hundreds of cases of carbon-monoxide poisoning in Texas, including several deaths, she knew she had to help.
Just last fall Brundidge, 49, a Twin Cities radio personality and author, lost five members of her own family under similar circumstances.
Last week's record winter storm triggered an electrical grid failure that, coupled with below-zero temperatures, left millions across Texas without power or heat. To keep warm, people took to extreme measures — bringing generators and barbecue grills inside their houses, huddling in front of gas stoves, sleeping in their cars — all of which carry a risk of carbon-monoxide poisoning. That's how Brundidge's close-knit relatives died — uncles, cousins and her beloved Aunt Rosa, the family matriarch.
Late last August, Hurricane Laura slammed Louisiana and parts of Texas, knocking out power in her cousin's home in Lake Charles, La., but leaving her house intact. An uncle whose home was more badly damaged gathered in the same house. They activated the generator in the attached garage and left a garage door open for ventilation. During the night, wind blew the door shut.
Four died in their sleep, an uncle shortly thereafter.
"I thought, this is something that happens in the movies," Brundidge said. "You don't think you're going to lose two generations of family."
Brundidge, who grew up in Texas, appeared on Houston television to warn viewers about accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say kills at least 430 people a year.
She got First Alert, a manufacturer of carbon-monoxide detectors, to donate 100 of the devices. But Brundidge received 450 requests from people who said they couldn't afford the $20 to $30 detectors.
Brundidge and her four children, ages 6 to 14, together agreed to donate $1,500 they'd been saving for a spring-break visit to Houston. The kids didn't mind giving up the trip they'd looked forward to because "every time they have an opportunity to give, they're excited about it," she said. The children helped pack up the devices for mailing.
When friends offered to pitch in, Brundidge handed them lists of people who'd requested detectors.
Carbon monoxide is a particularly insidious poison because it has no odor or immediately detectable symptoms.
"It's not going to make your throat scratchy, it's not going to cause your eyes to water. ... Nothing's going to make you aware that you've got a carbon-monoxide situation going on in your home," Brundidge said. "You're just not going to wake up."
Katy Read • 612-673-4583