When Ryan was in college, he became curious about vaping. At the time, it was a newer alternative to cigarettes, and it had become very popular among his friends. He kept seeing people at parties using vapes and thought he would give it a try. After all, he had heard it was better for you than smoking. Though his parents had talked to him about the dangers of vaping, like lung injury or popcorn lung, he didn’t know anyone who had had any health problems associated with it, so he didn’t worry about vaping regularly. “I had a very devil-may-care attitude because I felt invincible,” he said.

Before he knew it, Ryan was addicted. He was vaping consistently through the day because, unlike cigarettes, he could sneakily vape whenever he wanted. But inside his lungs were changing. “It’s very hard to know the damage you are doing to your lungs because you don’t see them every day, It’s not like a cut or something. And though you may feel small changes over time, they are easy to ignore or write off as a cold,” he explained.

That is, until he ended up in the emergency room.

From Innocent to Deadly 

One day, Ryan felt off and decided he needed to visit his primary care doctor, who treated him for an upper respiratory infection. The medication seemed to do nothing though, and Ryan found himself very short of breath in the middle of the night. He called his parents and asked them to meet him at the emergency room. There, the doctors did a chest X-ray that seemed clear, so he returned home.

But just two days later, Ryan was rushed back to the hospital in an ambulance. This time his lungs had 85% saturation and his breathing levels and heart rate were terrifyingly high. “His breathing rate was 62 breaths a minute and his heart rate was 160. In comparison, a normal breathing rate is around 12 breaths a minute, so he was really in a bad way,” his mother recalled.

He was intubated and his doctors worked fast to help him breathe. This required them to put Ryan’s ventilator on a pressure level of 20 (normal rate is 5) at 100% oxygen. This was so much higher than normal that doctors had an ECMO machine on standby in Ryan’s room in case he had a heart attack, but they explained it was necessary to keep him breathing. Once they were able to lower these numbers a bit, they paralyzed his body for three days to ensure he had no movement that would make his body work any harder than it had to. They also would turn him ‘prone,’ which meant putting him on his stomach 16 hours a day, because it allowed his lungs to expand within his chest more than if he was laying on his back.

“At that point they didn’t know what the problem was because he was so sick when they intubated him that they could not take a sample from his lungs,” his parents explained. “So, for those first few days he was on 16 machines, and they were giving him every antibiotic, steroids and anti-inflammatory they could because they had no idea what was wrong.”

When he was finally well enough for a lung biopsy, the doctors diagnosed him with staphylococcal pneumonia. The fact that he had gone from being ok to critical in such a short period of time signaled to them that this rapid decline had been caused by vaping, as using a vape when sick can cause rapid bacterial growth. So, when Ryan had been vaping through his colds, the vape caused the bacteria to spread and blood clots to form in his legs. These clots then traveled to his lungs, causing them to completely fail.

For the next two weeks, Ryan’s friends and family lived at the hospital. “He doesn’t remember, but at one point when he was semiconscious, he made me pinky promise he would live. We both were so terrified,” his mother recollected. The doctors explained that Ryan was as sick as a person could be without dying, so it seemed like a miracle when he began to turn the corner. He finally woke up, disoriented and unsure of what was happening when the nurse was extubating him. He was transferred to the ICU but his doctors made it clear he still had a long way to go.

"The vape caused the bacteria to spread and blood clots to form in his legs. These clots then traveled to his lungs, causing them to completely fail."

Learning a Crucial Life Lesson

When he was finally able to go home, he was given a bunch of medicine to fight off the infection and lingering effects of the pneumonia. He also needed to go to physical therapy to learn how to redo basic things like standing, walking, etc. “He didn’t have the strength to even stand up for a while, and so he had to use a wheelchair, then a walker. Plus, he had trouble sleeping, and began suffering from PTSD, something he still struggles with today,” his mother explained.

“You really take breathing for granted and you don’t realize how much you will miss it until you can’t do it,” Ryan said.

Ryan continues to improve by following a healthy lifestyle and staying away from vaping. And his experience opened the eyes of those in his inner circle to the dangers of vaping. As a result, many people in his immediate circle have quit. “Broad strokes, I tell people to just stay away from vaping. It’s very addictive and if you keep doing it, it gets to the point where there will be something bad that happens to you. I wish that I had been able to have the discipline to stay away from things that my friends and family had told me were dangerous.”

Additionally, Ryan learned just how much his actions affect not just him, but those who love him. “You don’t really understand, especially if you are young. But I think you need to value your health above everything else because being faced with your own mortality is truly frightening in a way that I can’t even put into words. I learned that I have a responsibility not just to myself but to others to stay healthy because there are a lot of people I love, who love me, and I want to be around for them.”

Learn more about the dangers of vaping and how to quit on our website. 

Freedom From Smoking Clinic
, | May 29, 2024
Freedom From Smoking Clinic
Detroit, MI | May 29, 2024