In the United States, a teenager is the first person to have both lungs replaced because of, it seems, his use of an electronic cigarette.
'This teenager would have faced imminent death if he had not received a lung transplant.' This was stated by Dr Hassan Nemeh, Director of the Thoracic Organ Transplant Unit at Henry Ford Hospital (Detroit, USA), after performing what appears to be the first double lung transplant on a patient with vaping-related injuries.
At the beginning of September, the 17-year-old patient was admitted to hospital with symptoms similar to those of pneumonia. His ability to breathe quickly deteriorated. He was then intubated and kept alive with an ECMO device. For more than a month, the machine helped support his heart and lungs, allowing his organs to rest and heal. 'He wouldn't have survived even a few minutes without it,' Dr Nemeh said in a November 12th statement.
'The lung itself was so firm and damaged - it's an ailment I had never seen before,' says the surgeon. A CT scan of his lungs revealed widespread inflammation and scars. Normally, areas containing air appear in black but the patient's scans showed almost none. Dead tissue stained both respiratory organs, signalling to the medical team that the damage was irreversible.
From athlete to transplant receiver
His lungs were therefore not able to heal. His condition was so bad that he was placed at the top of the national waiting list for lung transplants. The teenager finally had surgery on October 15th, and he can now breathe without a device and is undergoing physical therapy to regain his strength. But he wants to make people aware about the dangers of lung damage from electronic cigarettes and hopes that his story will convince many people to quit vaping.
'He went from the typical life of a perfectly healthy 16-year-old athlete - attending high school, spending time with friends, sailing and playing video games - to waking up intubated and with two new lungs,' revealed his family. 'If this message can save one person, prevents others from vaping or encourages an addict to seek help to quit smoking, it is certainly a step in the right direction.'
A 'totally preventable' disease
'It's a senseless disease, totally preventable,' adds Dr Nemeh. According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2,050 cases of lung damage associated with e-cigarette smoking have been reported since March in the United States. 39 individuals have died as a result. However, the teenager treated in Detroit was the first to receive a double transplant. These disorders have been called EVALI, for 'an e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury.'
Most of the affected people reported using products containing THC, the main component of cannabis,in their electronic cigarette fluids. According to the CDC, this use plays 'a major role in the epidemic.' At this time, Henry Ford Hospital has not specified the type of fluid used by the young transplant recipient.