17-year-old is first to receive double lung transplant for vaping injury

Wednesday, November 13, 2019 - 4:26pm

A 17-year-old boy is believed to be the first vape-injured patient in the U.S. to receive a double lung transplant in order to save his life. 

The procedure was performed at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit on Oct. 15, doctors said at a news conference on Tuesday. Dr. Hassan Nemeh, surgical director of thoracic organ transplants at Henry Ford Hospital, said in a statement this procedure was crucial to the boy’s survival. 

“This teenager faced imminent death had he not received a lung transplant,” Nemeh said. 

 The boy — who turned 17 while in the hospital — was first admitted to Ascension St. John Hospital in Detroit with symptoms of pneumonia on Sept. 5. However, his health quickly deteriorated, and he was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Michigan where he was placed on a machine to keep his heart and lungs active. Five days later, he was moved to Henry Ford Hospital for the operation. 

In the conference the doctors explained the boy’s lungs were damaged in a way they had not previously seen, specifically citing shocking inflammation, scarring and dead tissue. 

“This is an evil that I haven’t faced before,” Nemeh said. 

 Dr. Lisa Allenspach, a pulmonologist at Henry Ford, said the statement the vaping has created a real issue for the younger generations.

“Our adolescents are really faced with a crisis,” Allenspach said. “There was a study released last week that surveyed over 10,000 middle school and high school students. And 28 percent of high school students reported ongoing use of e-cigarettes and 11 percent of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes.”

Dr. Nicholas Yeldo, a cardiothoracic anesthesiologist, said in a statement he hopes the incident brings awareness to the greater issue in society with vaping.

"We are here today to beg the public to pay special attention to the special steps that were taken in this case. ... I beg of you, this was not just the unlucky one,” Yeldo said. “This is happening way too much to turn our heads to this.”

The family of the boy described him as a typical 17-year-old, who enjoys sailing, hanging out with friends and playing video games. In a statement, they said they hope to bring awareness to the dangers associated with vaping. 

“Within a 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...” the family said, “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 teen is on the road to recovery, but it could take months. In a statement to the Detroit Free Press, Nemeh explained the use of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation to replace the function of the lungs. 

“He is very close to being transferred to rehab,” Nemeh said. “However, because he was on the ECMO machine for almost a month with total sedation, he is incredibly weak.”

 They went on to explain they publicized the boy’s condition to prevent others from vaping. 

“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,” the family said.