Vaping crisis: 17-year-old US boy undergoes double lung transplantation as e-cigarettes damage both his lungs

The boy, who is a former athlete, is doing well, says the medical team, adding that recovery will be an intense process and could take months

                            Vaping crisis: 17-year-old US boy undergoes double lung transplantation as e-cigarettes damage both his lungs
(Getty Images)

A 17-year-old US teenager, whose lungs were irreparably damaged from vaping, had to undergo a double-lung transplant.

The team of doctors from Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, who performed the transplant, issued a statement, saying the patient (image courtesy Henry Ford Health System) "is doing as well as can be expected," but recovery will be a long, intense process.

The medical team believes this is probably the first double lung transplant in the US for a patient whose lungs were severely damaged from vaping. The doctors claimed that they had never seen such scarring on someone's lungs from vaping. "This is an evil that I haven't faced before," Dr Hassan Nemeh, a thoracic specialist at Henry Ford Health System, said during a news conference on Tuesday.

“This teenager faced imminent death had he not received a lung transplant,” says Dr Nemeh, Dr Themistokles Chamogeorgakis and Dr Diazo Tanaka, along with a team of experts in Detroit. “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 damage that these vapes do to people’s lungs is irreversible. Please think of that – and tell your children to think of that,” says the team.

The boy was first admitted to a local hospital on September 5 with symptoms similar to that of pneumonia. Within a week, his condition deteriorated and faced difficulty breathing. As his condition kept going downhill, he needed an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) device to keep him alive: the device takes over the function of the heart and lungs. On September 17, he was shifted to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. 

But none of this helped much, according to the medical team. The boy was in grave danger — his lung damage was severe and he was close to death — and the only option doctors were left with was lung transplantation, they explain.

The Children’s Hospital of Michigan reached out to Dr Lisa Allenspach, pulmonologist and the Medical Director of Henry Ford’s Lung Transplant Program, to see if he could be a candidate for the transplant. Taking his condition into account, the boy was placed on the top of the transplant waiting list and received his transplants on October 15, 2019.

According to the doctors, the boy, who turned 17 in the hospital, is currently doing well and is on the road to recovery. But this could take months: he is now working on walking again and regaining his strength, say the doctors. His family chose not to reveal his name.

"He has gone from the typical life of a perfectly healthy 16-year-old athlete — attending high school, hanging out with friends, sailing and playing video games — to waking up intubated and with two new lungs, facing a long and painful recovery process as he struggles to regain his strength and mobility, which has been severely impacted," the statement read.

CDC has reported 39 deaths and 2,051 cases associated with vaping in the country. (Getty Images)

According to NBC News, the doctors refused to answer questions about what the boy had been vaping before becoming ill. Instead, they had one message: Stop vaping, whatever it is — just stop."We beg of you. We don’t want to be taking care of you next," said Dr Nicholas Yeldo, a critical care physician with the hospital system. 

As of November 5, there have been 39 vaping-illness associated deaths and 2,051 cases reported cases in the country. CDC had issued a warning against Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a cannabis compound found in certain vaping products. Just last week, CDC announced a breakthrough in their investigation after gathering evidence against vitamin E acetate, a component used to thicken the vaping fluid. They found the vitamin in lung fluid samples of all the tested lung injury patients.

However, this requires more evidence before pinning the blame entirely on vitamin E acetate. The CDC says other studies may identify other potential causes behind the lung injury outbreaks.

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