GROSSE POINTE, Mich. – There was nothing gradual about what Daniel Ament went through before ultimately undergoing a double lung transplant.
It was a chillingly fast descent into crisis for the Grosse Pointe teen and his helpless family, all because of vaping.
“I was in the house and he texted or called me saying, ‘I cant breathe,’ so I went up to his room and said, 'We’ll just go to the ER now,” said his mother, Tammy Ament.
Tammy put her son in the car not knowing he wouldn’t be back home for nearly two months. Actually, he very nearly never made it home at all. His condition went from a headache and trouble breathing to needing a new pair of lungs.
His mother, despite her son facing certain death without undergoing the rare transplant, never imagined her 16-year-old son would die.
“I never thought that. I didn’t think he was ever going to die. I don’t know why. I had two friends that I met and they were always very positive and kinda just kept down by me and kept people who were saying negative things away,” she said.
That positive outlook worked out: Daniel became the first recipient of a double lung transplant due to vaping.
Governor’s order did not help, he says
In the middle of the Ament family’s experience, the Michigan governor put down an executive order that was designed to get all of the flavored vaping liquids away from young kids. Daniel said that did not stop any of his friends from vaping.
"No. Not at all ... even though they took away like mango Juul, people were like, “Oh, well we can’t get mango but ... we’ll just smoke mint. It really doesn’t matter to the kids as much as adults think it does which flavor it is. It’s really just the nicotine,” he said.
In fact, it was just two days after the move by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to outlaw flavored vape products that Daniel headed for the emergency room. And the thing is, vaping had long been a topic of discussion in the Ament house. Tammy was terrified of all she’d heard it could do. And again and again she worried that her 16-year-old twin sons were doing it, just as seemingly all of their friends were.
“They were both very distant in their room a lot, just gone in their cars. They wouldn’t talk, and then I was just trying to deal with it,” she said.
Secret vaping, anytime and anywhere
There may not be such a thing as “the good old days of smoking," but at least it meant a smoky haze and a strong smell of cigarette smoke on clothing that made the habit hard to hide. Not so with the wondrous vape pen which allows kids to get away with smoking just about anywhere, even in class.
“Last year, I started to do it, because I got my car. So, I started meeting up with older friends. And, they had all started doing it. And, all I heard about it was that it was so much healthier than cigarettes. Like, it can’t hurt you. And, I just tried it. I didn’t see any real issue to it. But, I was still trying not to do it that much because I didn’t want to get addicted to it,” said Daniel.
He doesn’t think he was addicted. But he enjoyed it, and he liked it when he tried vaping marijuana. But now he sees all he traded. He was long a sailing fanatic, but he can no longer swim in Lake Saint Clair. The lake is too dirty for his immune system. Going back to school seems risky with the flu season in full bloom. He’s also on a regimen of about 20 pills a day, hoping his body doesn’t reject the new lungs that are giving him a second chance. No, none of it was worth all he’s been through.
“Some of my friends have been really interested, asking what is my life going to be like now? And, asking ‘how does it feel?’ But, a lot of people have just kind of moved on from it. A lot of my friends are still addicted to nicotine. So, I’m trying to get them to stop,” he said. “So, a lot of my conversations are still related to the situation. I mean, some people just don’t think it’ll happen to them. Like, they think they’re invincible. Which I think I had feelings like that, too.”
New message for friends, his own brother
He knows what he would tell them now.
“Look at me. And, I’ll show them pictures of what I looked like before. I have a picture of my lungs on my phone, and it was all black, and I’m like look at this. Do you want your lungs to look like this? Think about any sports you play. Think about any aspirations you have, they’re all going to change,” he said.
When you talk to Daniel and his mother, there is an unspoken sense of frustration in the house, not so much because of what happened, but because of what is happening. Daniel’s twin brother David is hooked on his vape pen. And even with everything he’s watched, he just can’t kick the habit.
“Any kid that came in (Daniel) would tell them to stop vaping, and David stopped for a while but then he started back up,” said their mother.
Daniel said the conversations with his brother have been hard.
It’s a very delicate time in the Ament household right now. But Daniel is focusing on two things: First: Getting back to full and fit health; but second: launching his non-profit called “Fight for Wellness” aimed at helping young people get out of the vaping habit.
Learn more: www.fight4wellness.com