Dr. Hassan Nemeh, the surgeon who led the team that performed the first double lung transplant on a vaping patient in the United States, said that the damage to the previously healthy teen’s organs was unparalleled.
“What I saw in his lungs is like nothing I’ve seen before, and I’ve been doing lung transplants for 20 years,” Nemeh, the Surgical Director of Thoracic Organ Transplant at Henry Ford Hospital, said at a press conference Tuesday, according to the New York Times.
“This is an evil I haven’t faced before,” he added.
Nemeh continued to explain that the patient’s CT scan before the surgery showed almost no sign of his lungs because they were devoid of air, the Times reported.
Nemeh and his team of surgeons performed the surgery last month at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, and staff said on Monday that they believe it was “first double lung transplant in the United States for a patient whose lungs were irreparably damaged from vaping.”
Nemeh said that the 17-year-old anonymous patient faced “imminent death” had he not received the double transplant, and is urging parents and teens to take note of the dangers that vaping pose.
“This is a preventable tragedy,” Nemeh said, per a news release from the hospital. “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.”
The family of the patient also released a statement, saying that they hope others can learn from their story that the “horrific life-threatening effects of vaping are very real.”
The family added in the statement that their son quickly went from a “perfectly healthy 16-year old athlete” who enjoyed sailing and playing video games to “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 patient was hospitalized at St. John Hospital on September 5 after showing symptoms of what appeared to be pneumonia, the hospital said, but his ability to breathe continued to get worse and worse, and doctors had to intubate him a week later, on September 12.
He was then transferred to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and connected to an ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) device, which provides support to the lungs. The machine was keeping him alive at this point.
Still, the patient continued to worsen and his doctors at CHM sought to get him a lung transplant.
“The lung damage due to vaping was so severe – and he was so close to death – that he immediately shot to the top of the transplant waiting list, which ultimately led to the successful transplant on Oct. 15, 2019,” Henry Ford Hospital said in its release.
The patient “is doing as well as can be expected and has a very good prognosis,” the release said, and he was taken off the ventilator on October 27, and is starting to work on walking again.
But it’s a long road ahead to recovery, which will take months.
The milestone transplant comes as concern within the medical community over the dangers of vaping continues to rise.
“Vaping has become an epidemic among youth in the United States,” said Dr. Lisa Allenspach, pulmonologist and the Medical Director of Henry Ford’s Lung Transplant Program.
“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,” she said. “We are just beginning to see the enormous health consequence jeopardizing the youth in our country.”
Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control said that there are now 2,051 cases of lung illness across 49 states, Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and 39 deaths. Alaska is the only state that has not had any cases of EVALI, the vaping-related lung illness.
Also last week, Donald Trump said that he is working on raising the legal vaping age in response to the crisis.