17-year-old boy has double lung transplant in Detroit due to irreparable damage from vaping, doctors say

Henry Ford doctors perform double lung transplant for vaping patient

Local teen gets double lung transplant after vaping injury

DETROIT – A 17-year-old boy underwent a double lung transplant at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit after his lungs were irreparably damaged from vaping, doctors said.

Medical officials said this is believed to be the first double lung transplant due to vaping in the United States.

While the boy is doing as well as can be expected, he has a long, intense recovery ahead, according to officials.

“This teenager faced imminent death had he not received a lung transplant,” Dr. Hassan Nemeh said. “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. The damage that these vapes do to people’s lungs is irreversible. Please think of that -- and tell your children to think of that.”

Nemeh, surgical director of thoracic organ transplant at Henry Ford Hospital, performed the transplant with surgeons Dr. Themistokles Chamogeorgakis and Dr. Diazo Tanaka and a team of experts in Detroit.

Here’s a statement from the boy’s family:

"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.”

What happened

Doctors said the boy was admitted to St. John Hospital on Sept. 5 with apparent pneumonia symptoms.

He was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Michigan on Sept. 17 and hooked up to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation to keep him alive, doctors said.

When the boy’s condition worsened, doctors contacted Dr. Lisa Allenspach, pulmonologist and the Medical Director of Henry Ford’s Lung Transplant Program, to see if he would be a lung transplant candidate.

“As a leading lung transplant center in the Midwest, we were grateful to be able to offer assistance and plan to continue to support the family as he recovers over the next few months,” Allenspach said. “Vaping has become an epidemic among youth in the United States. 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 boy was critically ill when he arrived at Henry Ford Hospital on Oct. 3, officials said.

He was placed on the waiting list for a transplant Oct. 8, but his damage was so severe and he was so close to death that he shot to the top of the list, according to authorities.

A successful transplant was performed Oct. 15, medical officials said.

Full recovery from a lung transplant can take months, doctors said. He came off a ventilator Oct. 27 and is working to walk and regain his strength, officials said.

Dangers of vaping

As of Tuesday, 39 people have died and more than 2,000 have suffered lung injuries due to vaping in the U.S., experts said.

There have been 46 cases of severe lung disease linked to vaping, including one death, according to officials.

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About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.