A team of doctors at Henry Ford Medical System in Detroit has performed a double-lung transplant on a patient who suffered irreparable vaping-related lung damage. The hospital says the operation is believed to be the first such procedure to be performed on a patient with vaping-related lung injury.
The 17-year old patient did not want to be identified, but he and his family asked Ford Health System to share his experience with the public so that others may be spared from the “horrific life-threatening effects” of vaping, which they say are “very real.”
Doctors said the teen faced “imminent death had he not received a lung transplant.” They said patient faces a long and “intense” recovery process ahead of him but described his prognosis as “very good.”
“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,” said Dr. Hassan Nemeh, Surgical Director of Thoracic Organ Transplant at Henry Ford Hospital, and one of the surgeons who performed the transplant.
“The damage that these vapes do to people’s lungs is irreversible. Please think of that – and tell your children to think of that,” Dr. Nemeh added.
The teen was first admitted to Ascension St. John Hospital in Detroit on Sept. 5 with pneumonia-like symptoms. His condition and his ability to breathe worsened. Doctors intubated him on Sept. 12. Five days later, he was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Michigan, where he was hooked up to an ECMO device, a long-term heart/lung machine that performed breathing functions for him and kept him alive.
The goal at that time was to provide the patient’s organs time to rest and recuperate, but his condition deteriorated further despite the life support.
Doctors evaluated the patient for a lung transplant and transferred him to Henry Ford Hospital on Oct. 3 in critical condition. He was placed on the Organ Transplant Waiting List on Oct. 8. By that time the lung damage from vaping was so severe and the patient was so close to death that he was immediately put at the top of the transplant waiting list.
Doctors successfully implanted the patient with donor lungs on Oct. 15. They removed the teen from the ventilator on Oct. 27. Ford Health System says the patient is walking around and regaining his strength but that his recovery will take months.
Dr. Lisa Allenspach, pulmonologist and the Medical Director of Henry Ford’s Lung Transplant Program, said the patient’s recovery will be very difficult but that she expects him to return to doing things he loves.
“Vaping has become an epidemic among youth in the United States,” Dr. Allenspach said. “A recent survey of over 10,000 U.S. high school and middle school students showed 28% of high school students and 11% 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.”
The advent of the youth vaping epidemic can be traced to JUUL Labs, the San Francisco-based vape maker that deliberately targeted non-smoking kids and teens with its products and advertising.
Beasley Allen lawyers Joseph VanZandt and Sydney Everett, together with Mass Torts Section Head Andy Birchfield, are currently representing several individuals who are suing JUUL for the negative impact its products have had on their lives. On Oct. 7 they also filed lawsuits on behalf of school districts in three states, which seek to protect students and recover resources spent fighting the vaping epidemic.
The Michigan teen who underwent the lung transplant is one of 2,051 cases of severe vaping related illness in the U.S., which health authorities have name EVALI – a pseudo-acronym for “e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to investigate the outbreak of EVALI, which is blamed for the deaths of at least 39 people in 24 states and the District of Columbia. People afflicted with the vaping illness are reported in every state but Alaska.
The full statement from the Michigan patient’s family follows:
We asked Henry Ford doctors to share that 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. 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.
We are forever grateful to the organ donor and their compassionate family for making the selfless decision to donate the gift of life. We are also grateful for the collaboration of the medical teams at Henry Ford, Children’s Hospital of Michigan and Ascension St. John Hospital, for working together to provide a second chance at life.
If this press announcement saves just one person, prevents others from vaping, or inspires someone addicted to seek help to quit, it is surely a step in the right direction. We ask that you please respect our privacy as we concentrate on our son’s recovery.