A surgical team at Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital has successfully performed a double lung transplant on a patient whose own lungs were destroyed by vaping. It appears to be the first such surgery to be performed on a vape victim. The patient, age 17, has not been identified. However, a press statement from the hospital said that “he and his family would like his medical team to share photographs and an update to warn others.”

According to local news sources, the patient – described as “a student-athlete who loves sailing and playing video games with friends” – had the surgery in mid-October, and would have died without it. He was admitted to another hospital in early September, complaining of pneumonia-like symptoms. As his condition deteriorated, he was moved first to Children’s Hospital of Michigan, where he was hooked up to an oxygenation machine, hoping it would buy him time to recover. When that failed, he was put on a transplant list and transferred to Henry Ford’s lung transplantation center.

Dr. Hassan Nemeh, director of thoracic surgery at Henry Ford, described the boy’s injury in graphic terms: “What I saw in his lungs is nothing that I have ever seen before, and I have been doing lung transplants for 20 years. There were inflammation and scarring, and dead tissue. This is an evil that I haven’t faced before.”

Other doctors who have seen the effects of what has come to be known as EVALI (“E-cigarette/Vape-Associated Lung Injury) have described it as similar to the effects of inhaling toxic chemical fumes. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control reported that vitamin E acetate, a common food preservative, is a “very strong culprit,” as this oily substance has been found to coat the inner surfaces of the alveoli or air sacs of the lungs. Other possible causes include flavoring agents, the sale of which has been prohibited or discontinued in several jurisdictions.

Most cases of EVALI have been associated with homemade or bootleg THC cartridges. Nonetheless, the CDC is recommending that people not use any e-cigarette products, avoid buying products from street dealers, and not to modify vape products until more has been ascertained about the disease and its causes.

As for the young transplant patient, he appears to be doing well. Dr. Lisa Allenspach, director of the hospital’s lung transplant center, reports that he is breathing on his own and will soon be transferred to a rehabilitation clinic. She adds, “Hopefully, he will be an advocate against vaping.”

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.