Why Doctors Believe Vaping Landed 17 Year Old In ICU
By Dr. Diane Arnaout
Earlier this summer, my 17-year-old patient Tryston just wasn’t feeling like himself.
“I was tired all the time. My energy was low. I was losing some weight.”
Then, things quickly turned downhill. He started having chills. He was feeling really exhausted all the time, was nauseous, and had some fevers.
When he started becoming short of breath and having some chest pain, he and his mother decided it was time to head to an urgent care clinic, where he was given antibiotics and flu medications.
In 24 hours, he felt worse. His breathing became more difficult. Something was definitely wrong.
He came to Cook Children’s, and the doctors and nurses quickly realized what poor shape he was in. X-rays showed something that looked like pneumonia on both sides of his chest. But the specialists were confused, because it just wasn’t obvious.
Within 48 hours however, what WAS obvious was that Tryston was getting worse.
As his Cook Children’s pediatrician, I was sent daily updates about him. I found myself holding my breath every time I opened the update – and audibly gasped the moment I realized that he was intubated.
This means a tube was stuck down into his windpipe to breathe for him.
And the tube stayed there for the next 10 days. Machines were keeping Tryston alive. He was in the ICU, where the sickest children in the hospital stay.
“I lost a lot of sleep over this kid,” said Mary Suzanne Whitworth, M.D., medical director of Infectious Diseases at Cook Children’s. Dr. Whitworth wasn’t sure what was going on, and became very close with the family.
Was it an infection? No organism seemed to grow from cultures. Was it an autoimmune disease? The rheumatologists didn’t think so.
Even a lung biopsy – a piece of his lung which was cut out and examined under a microscope – didn’t seem to hold any clear and obvious clue as to why he was so sick. His lungs just failed, and he was in something called respiratory distress.
He was put on numerous antibiotics and antifungal medications to see if they’d help. He was needing more and more oxygen. He even needed special high-frequency ventilations (think little tiny rapid puffs of air) to keep his lungs open and working.
There’s one thing I haven’t mentioned yet. The one thing that was in the back of everyone’s minds.
One thing that Tryston mentioned to the staff of Cook Children’s before he got very ill is something I already knew, and had talked to him about the year prior.
Tryston liked to vape.
Most of you have heard about “vaping” in some way or another, but if you haven’t watched the news lately (or been in my office lately - because jeez, I am hearing more and more about it daily), “vaping” is when someone smokes an aerosolized chemical, usually from something called an e-cigarette.
Vaping is becoming VERY popular amongst teenagers. Statistics show 45% of U.S. teens have tried it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now investigating the "sudden emergence of severe lung disease linked to vaping in 14 states. Ninety-four possible cases of severe lung illness associated with vaping have been reported from the end of June to Aug. 15, the CDC reports.
Corwin Warmink, M.D., the medical director of Emergency Services at Cook Children’s, says he has seen multiple patients come through the ER and his team sees a child every week for vaping. But it’s not just teens, we are also seeing younger children, 5 and under, who have ingested vaping liquid. Scary stuff.
The most popular types look like USB devices. They’re super easy to hide. They have different “fun flavors” like mango, crème brulee and fruit medley. Some of the devices are even cute, with teddy bears on them.
They are more addictive than cigarettes. One Juul pod (currently the most popular brand) has the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes! “And I know lots of kids smoking 2 or 3 pods a week,” Tryston told me.
And though they claim to be a “healthier option” to regular cigarettes, I beg to differ. Inhaling chemicals is inhaling chemicals. There are over 40 different chemicals in vaping liquids. And they can cause some major damage.
They can hurt delicate lung tissue. We are seeing more and more reports of teenagers and young adults suffering severe lung injuries and seizures coming out in the news lately.
I’m really worried about how addictive these things are. Kids who want to quit are finding it more difficult to do so than if they’d smoked a pack a day.
Want to know why you should quit?
Tryston spent 18 days at Cook Children’s.
He lost almost 30 pounds. He is re-learning how to walk normally again. He has no muscle mass in his legs anymore from being bedridden for almost three weeks. He is still coughing at times. He feels very tired.
A clear answer for why his lungs failed him was never found.
“We don't know for sure. But there are literature reports of hypersensitivity pneumonitis from vaping. I told him no inhaling anything again, ever. We still don't know for sure what the trigger was. But it is very plausible that it could be due to his vaping,” Dr. Whitworth said.
The general consensus was that his lungs were severely injured, and I believe his vaping habits had a lot to do with it.
Two days after going home, he walked into my office for a follow-up visit. We had a very real, very brutal heart-to-heart.
I said, “Tryston, buddy…you know you could have died, right?” and he looked me in the eye and said “I’ll never touch the stuff again, Dr. Diane. And I want everyone to know that. I want to tell my story. And if I can just keep one kid from going through what I did, it’ll all be worth it.”
So here I am, telling you his story. Tryston is a great kid with a great heart. He made a mistake, one that LOTS of kids are making, because they assume e-cigarettes are “healthier” than regular cigarettes.
And Tryston wants us all to learn from it. Do me a favor and do what he has asked: print this out, and give it to your teenage son or daughter. Ask them to read it.
Let them know it’s just not worth it.
Learn More About This Topic:
- Vaping, Juuling, Dabbing (AAP Environmental Health) - Source for statistics in article
- New York Times: Dozens of Young People Hospitalized for Breathing and Lung Problems After Vaping
- Huffington Post: CDC Launches Probe Into Surge of Severe Lung Disease Cases Linked To Vaping
- Juul, Other E-Cigarettes Called an 'Epidemic' By FDA Chief
- E-Cigarettes Exposes Teens to Cancer-Causing Chemicals, Future Cigarette Smoking
- Adding flavors to e-cigarette liquids changes chemistry, creates irritants (Duke University)
- Tobacco Use Increases By More Than 38 Percent Among High School Students
Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D.
"Dr. Diane Arnaout is a pediatrician at the Cook Children's Forest Park practice. If you would like to see her at Forest Park, call 817-336-3800 or click here for an appointment. Dr. Diane has been a Cook Children’s physician since 2011.
She got her undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University, went to medical school at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, and completed her pediatric residency in the Texas Medical Center at UT Health Science Center in Houston.
She is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. She has two small kids, whom she credits as being her toughest (and best) teachers. She loves being a pediatrician and loves to teach parents all about their childrens’ health daily, both in-person and online.”