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Teenager Hospitalized for Vaping: A Warning For Parents

Lung transplant patients are typically middle-aged people with end stage lung disease who have exhausted all their other treatment options. But surgeons at Henry Ford Hospital recently performed a double lung transplant on a formerly healthy, athletic teenager. There was one reason he required such a drastic procedure, which involves removing the diseased lungs and then attaching the donor lungs to the airways and blood vessels that lead to and from the heart:

Vaping.

Following the successful surgery, the Henry Ford medical team and the teen’s family are reaching out to other families who might dismiss vaping as nothing serious.

“The damage that these vapes do to people’s lungs is irreversible. Please think of that—and tell your children to think of that,” said Dr. Hassan Nemeh, Surgical Director of Thoracic Organ Transplant at Henry Ford Hospital.

A Preventable Tragedy

Noting that the teenager faced imminent death without the lung transplant, Nemeh added, “This is a preventable tragedy. And we have so much respect for this family for allowing us to share their pain to prevent the same from happening to others.”

The patient’s parents, who aren’t sharing his name to protect their privacy, described their son as a typical high schooler who hung out with friends, sailed, and played video games. Then he took up vaping. That habit eventually brought him to a local hospital on September 5 with symptoms of what appeared to be pneumonia.

As his ability to breathe worsened, the patient was intubated.

On September 17, he was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Michigan, where he was hooked up to an ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) device to keep him alive. The medical team evaluating the teenager found the lung damage from vaping to be so severe that he was put at the top of the transplant waiting list.

While the teen had a successful transplant at Henry Ford Hospital on October 15, he still remained on a ventilator until October 27. He has now begun a long and painful recovery process as he struggles to regain his strength and mobility, which have been severely impacted.

The teen’s family is sharing these details of their experience to educate other families. In a statement they said, “The horrific life-threatening effects of vaping are very real! Our family could never have imagined being at the center of the largest adolescent public health crisis to face our country in decades. Within a very short period of time, our lives have been forever changed.”

Vaping can damage your lungs permanently. The teenager joins a growing list of Americans whose health has been impacted by vaping.

As of mid-November, 42 people have died and more than 2,170 people have suffered lung injuries from vaping in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Lisa Allenspach, a pulmonologist and the Medical Director of Henry Ford’s Lung Transplant Program, emphasized that recovery is very difficult but that she expects the teenager to eventually return to doing things he loves. She is concerned that vaping has become an epidemic among youth in the United States, noting, “A recent survey of over 10,000 U.S. high school and middle school students showed 28 percent of high school students and 11 percent of middle school students self-reported ongoing use of e-cigarettes, most frequently flavored varieties. We are just beginning to see the enormous health consequence jeopardizing the youth in our country.”

While the CDC continues to investigate the causes of these diseases and deaths, they state that e-cigarette and vaping products should never be used by youths, young adults, or women who are pregnant. The CDC also emphasizes that “there is no safe tobacco product.” Their website shares a variety of resources for families looking for education, prevention, and treatment information with regards to vaping.

Sources:

Henry Ford: https://www.henryford.com/news/2019/11/vaping-lung-transplant

Mayo: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/lung-transplant/about/pac-20384754

CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html

Kristin O'Keefe

Kristin O’Keefe is a freelance writer who is also working on a satirical novel about a modern day fairy godmother. Kristin has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, McSweeney’s, Grown and Flown and Scary Mommy. Find her on Twitter @_KristinOKeefe and Facebook at Kristin O’Keefe, writer.