Doctors say vaping caused Texas teen's lungs to fail

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A North Texas teenager nearly died of lung failure and doctors are blaming his problem on vaping.

Just this week, health officials released a national alert about the dangers of electronic cigarettes. Dallas County Health Director Dr. Philip Huang said he knows of at least two cases of a serious lung illness related to vaping.

That’s why Tryson Zohfeld asked doctors to help share his story. He said he’ll never touch an e-cigarette again and wants to warn others about the dangers. And with the rise in popularity of vaping, doctors expect to see more cases like Zohfeld’s.

“It is odorless. It doesn't smell. You can't hear it. They could be doing it up in their room and you would have no idea,” said Dr. Karen Schultz, who is a pediatric pulmonologist at Cook Children's Hospital.

The 17-year-old spent 18 days at Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth. Most of that time, he was in the intensive care unit with a tube down his windpipe to help him breathe.

Zohfeld initially went to doctors with chest pain and shortness of breath. But the X-rays showed his condition was much worse. He had to be put on a breathing machine for 10 days.

Dr. Schultz and her team were at a loss when Zohfeld showed up at Cook Children's. He had abdominal pain and was vomiting and having trouble breathing, but doctors couldn't figure out why, until they found out from a family member the teen had been vaping extensively.

“He had damage to his lungs from the chemicals that he was inhaling, which caused irritation and inflammation in his lungs and actually started causing some scarring within his lungs,” Dr. Schultz explained.

Doctors believe vaping caused his lungs to fail. He had been vaping since he was 14 years old. Zohfeld lost 30 pounds and had to re-learn how to walk after being bed-ridden for nearly three weeks this summer.

“There was a time we weren't sure he was going to make it through,” Dr. Schultz added.

With time and physical therapy, the teen is now recovering.

And while this is the first case of its kind doctors at Cook Children's have seen at their hospital, they expect to see more.

“There's lots of chemicals in those pods that we're not sure exactly what kind of damage and what long-term effects those are going to have on the lungs,” Dr. Schultz said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now investigating nearly 100 similar cases of severe lung disease linked to vaping in 14 states.

Juul is one of the most popular brands of e-cigarettes. A single pod contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes.

“It’s a new product, and we really don’t know the long-term health effects of these things. And it’s something we need to identify more problems. They are not allowed to be marketed as being healthier products,” said Dr. Philip Huang, director of the Dallas County Health Department.

Huang said it’s been difficult for health officials to assess the health effects of e-cigarettes because they are not all used the same. But in some cases, he’s heard of people using them constantly almost like a pacifier.

The medical director of emergency services at Cook Children’s said he sees about a child a week for some sort of problem related to vaping.

And though medical staffs are now starting to see the initial effects of vaping, doctors say there isn't enough research out there on the topic.

“Vaping has only been around for a few years. We have no idea what the long-term side effects are going to be of these chemicals,” Dr. Schultz said.

Even though vaping is marketed as a “safer” alternative to cigarette smoking, doctors say that's not the case.

Vaping pods have more nicotine than cigarettes and are more addictive.