GROSSE POINTE, Mich. – Last fall, word came that doctors at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit had performed a double lung transplant due to the effects of vaping, the first of its kind in the U.S.
However, we knew almost nothing about the young patient. Since then, Local 4 and ClickOnDetroit met with the teenager who nearly lost his life to a vape pen. His name is Daniel Ament. He and his mother sat down in their Grosse Pointe home to talk about what happened.
"I thought, if all my friends are still doing it and they’re not getting any issues, and they’re doing it way more than I am, then I’d be fine, but ... "
But he wasn’t fine. No. Ament didn’t know it, but he was a long, long way from fine. And then came the day in September when he had a headache and a fever that spiked at 104 degrees.
“I remember going in the ER and being there for about an hour. And then I don’t remember anything. And then I never left the hospital after that,” he said.
Ament is -- or was -- an athlete in terrific shape. He was a runner who dreamed of one day being a Navy SEAL. It’s safe to say he had kept his lungs in very fine working order. But he was doing something that would nearly erase them from his chest. He had been vaping, like just about everyone else he knew.
No symptoms until it was too late
“Basically, everyone (is vaping). Like, a lot of people. It’s more rare to find someone who doesn’t. I would say. Like, people doing it in classes and bathrooms, mostly,” he said. “The first time I thought I had a problem was the day I had the fever. That was the only symptoms I’ve ever had from it. I did not feel like it was doing anything bad until that second day of school when I went to the ER. Then after that I don’t remember anything, then I had to get new lungs.”
What a strange thing to have to say: “I had to get new lungs.” While Daniel has so many days that he can’t remember, his mother has just as many days that she’ll never be able to forget.
“It was hard because they kept asking me, ‘Do you think he would want to live?’ and I’m like ... because you know they needed to know that. But they just kept asking ... and finally I was like, ‘He’s a 16-year-old kid, of course he wants to live,'" said Tammy Ament.
Denial about vaping
There was plenty of confusion about what was wrong. At one point, an ER doctor suggested Daniel just go home. Tammy knew they had no business going home. But she also knew that she occasionally needed to leave the room so that nurses could get to the truth. Daniel told them what he hadn’t wanted to tell his mom about vaping, especially since she had warned him time and again against it.
“I had asked him if he had been vaping and he said no again,” she said.
Two hospitals later, Daniel was at Henry Ford and getting worse, to the point where he needed to be hooked up to a lung machine. His doctor said he’d never seen a worse lung X-ray. It was as if Daniel’s lungs had vanished, and the doctor said he was facing certain death.
Unable to generate any lung power, they had arrived at the extreme. While a double lung transplant isn’t as rare as it once was, it is still hardly commonplace and finding a suitable pair of lungs can be a moonshot. But a set of lungs became available -- bad news for a family somewhere was good news for the Ament family -- and a kind of unfortunate history was made. Daniel became the first patient to receive a double lung transplant due to vaping.
“But he ended up just being in the hospital for 40 days. The transplant happened on the 40th day,” said Tammy.
Learning to breathe again
Six hours of high wire surgery had saved his life, but it’s hardly an outpatient procedure. Daniel had to learn to breathe again, but how?
“I honestly don’t know? I just remember I couldn’t, like, I couldn’t time it. Like, it was really hard to time. I just felt like I was losing all my air,” he said.
He has a long scar now.
“It goes from like, here, then up, then like back here. And two pulls on each side right here. Then also on my legs right here ... and then there’s these two (pointing to his neck). This is where the trac was,” he said.
There’s no more hiding from it. Daniel is now saying yes -- yes, he vaped. Yes, he vaped nicotine. Yes, he vaped THC. And yes, it very nearly killed him. He’s saying yes in the hopes that he can be the one to convince others to say no.
“There have been a lot of people who said they have quit because of me, and like a lot of my friends actually have, so that’s what makes it hopeful for the future for me to actually ... that I can save people from it,” he said.
Daniel Ament is already coming to understand that a number of his friends can’t just quit, even after watching what happened to him.