Out of tragedy comes the light of love
● By J. Chambless
Donna Imbierowicz at home, surrounded by items related to Carly, her 16-year-old daughter, who passed away on Nov. 22, 2014.
By John Chambless
“Carly truly was the happiest person I ever met,” Donna Imbierowicz said, smiling at the memory of her daughter. “She was very well known for her smile.”
Donna has spent the past year sharing the light and love that her daughter brought to the community, with a message that will extend well beyond Carly's 16 years. She has made it her mission to sound a warning about carbon monoxide, and to channel the community's outpouring of love into tangible results for the causes Carly embraced.
On Nov. 22, 2014, Carly and Daulton Pointek, both students at Octorara High School, drove to Downingtown to see a movie. It was a cold night. Friends later recalled that the two “didn't seem like themselves” at the theater. On the drive home, Daulton pulled his 2002 Volkswagen Jetta to the shoulder of Friends Meetinghouse Road. At about noon the next day, a passerby noticed the car and called police. Inside, Carly and Daulton had passed away from carbon monoxide poisoning. The gas tank was empty and the ignition was still on. Fumes from the exhaust had been drawn into the car through the air vents.
In the dark year that has followed, there have been points of light for the families of both Carly and Daulton. Donna, her husband Matt, and their 15-year-old son, Andy, have poured themselves into fundraisers and awareness campaigns about carbon monoxide, an odorless gas that is created wherever fuel is burned. It can seep from home furnaces, automobiles or generators. Without proper ventilation, it causes gradual asphyxiation and death.
Donna's home near Coatesville is full of Carly's photos, along with plaques, T-shirts and promotional materials linked to the causes that have been created in her name. “She would have been graduating this year,” Donna said. Near the front door of the home, there's a bag of unopened letters from colleges on a shelf below Carly's framed field hockey shirt. “There are scholarships for her. She could have done anything,” Donna said. “She had a 4.0, she was a star athlete, it was all wide open. In my mind, she's gone to the best college in the universe – Heaven.”
This past year has been spent celebrating Carly's life. More than $51,000 has been raised for some of Carly's causes – the American Cancer Society, Mitochondrial Disease awareness, the Special Olympics, the Octorara Sports Boosters, and help for repairing the community track. Last November was designated Carbon Monoxide Awareness Month in the Octorara School District. More than 200 home carbon monoxide detectors and more than 300 small detectors for cars have been distributed. Three people have written songs for Carly. State Rep. Patrick Meehan designated Nov. 22 a day for carbon monoxide awareness in honor of Carly and Daulton.
“We had the funeral on Nov. 29, right after Thanksgiving,” Donna said. “I looked out over the room and there were so many people. It just felt like it was a community Thanksgiving. It blew my mind how much people wanted to help. We do live in an amazing community.”
In the wake of Carly's death, the Imbierowicz family has been embraced by the people of Saint Malachi of Doe Run and the OLC Parish, and Donna remains strong in her faith. “I do have my very, very dark days,” she said, “and my life will never be the same. But I know that Carly would want us to be happy. She just showed what love really means – accepting others, and that every day's a gift. She would always look for the best in others.”
Donna has connected with Janelle's Wishing Well, a group formed by a Florida family who also had a daughter pass away from carbon monoxide poisoning. The two families have shared distribution of small detectors that turn dark in the presence of the gas. The online community has also been a source of comfort and support as the Imbierowicz family figures out how to properly raise funds and awareness for several causes in Carly's name.
“One of the best things for me is to talk to parents who have also lost a child,” Donna said. “Most of the people I've talked to say that I'm doing very well.”
Mike Mariano, a top motivational speaker for youth, met Carly at a Future Business Leaders of America conference at Penn State and was deeply affected by her death, Donna said. “He later came to the high school and spoke about getting back on track after a loss, or after bullying. He's been telling Carly's story everywhere he speaks.”
At the Pennock's Bridge vocational school, students in the automotive classes hear about the dangers of carbon monoxide. “I think the car manufacturers can do more to prevent this. This needs to stop,” Donna said, admitting that taking on the auto industry is a daunting goal. “The thing is, this was 100 percent preventable. Neither one of them should be dead,” she said. “So I'll continue to see what I can do, but I'll start with Chester County. If we focus on the kids, we can't go wrong.”
Daulton's family in Cochranville has also been active in awareness and fundraising, Donna said. “Daulton's parents had not met Carly. They were supposed to have dinner with her that night,” she said quietly. Daulton's family has taken part in a fundraiser golf outing and a Powder Puff Football game for carbon monoxide awareness, among other events, in the past year.
In the future, Donna said she will focus her efforts on the Octorara Food Cupboard, on a website to promote awareness, and working with legislators to get more regulations passed about carbon monoxide dangers.
“That's how I'm doing it, by keeping busy,” Donna said. “With faith, hope and love, Carly changed the world.”
For more information, visit www.CMIawareness.org, or www.facebook.com/OctoraraCarbonMonoxideAwarenessEvents.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.