Doctors have successfully performed the first double lung transplant for a vaping-associated pulmonary injury (VAPI) patient. 

On Tuesday afternoon, medical professionals at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit announced that the patient, an unidentified 17-year-old, was doing “very well” and recovering. 

The patient was admitted to the hospital on September 5th for what was believed to be pneumonia. But as the teen’s health deteriorated while at the hospital, and the vape illness was identified, Henry Ford Health System’s doctors decided to try something that hadn’t been done for a VAPI patient before. The double lung transplant happened on October 15th.

“Our teenage patient would have faced certain death if it weren’t for the lung transplant,” said Dr. Hassan Nemeh, a thoracic surgeon and member of the transplant team, during a press conference on Tuesday

“This is an evil I haven’t faced before. The damage that these vapes do to people’s lungs is irreversible,” Nemeh added, noting the “enormous amount of inflammation and scarring” in the teen’s lungs. “Please think of that — and tell your children to think of that.”

The VAPI health crisis in the US has hospitalized over 2,000 people and has caused at least 39 deaths. The illness often gets mistaken for the flu or pneumonia when its symptoms first appear, but it quickly devolves into sharp chest pains and an inability to breathe. In extreme cases, the patient’s lungs will shut down altogether. 

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Health officials don’t know what’s causing VAPI, and there have been some back-and-forths regarding suspected causes. For instance, the CDC recently announced that vitamin E acetate, a cutting agent often found in black market vapes, has been detected in most vape samples collected from the patient’s homes. However, a previous Mayo Clinic study concluded that vitamin E acetate could not be the sole culprit behind VAPI due to the type of lung damage seen with VAPI patient biopsies. 

Other suspected culprits behind VAPI include heavy metals or pesticide poisoning. Although authorities believe illicit vape products that are not lab tested could be responsible, the CDC has advised everyone to cease vaping until officials determine a cause. As a result, vaping sales have significantly declined since August, when the first VAPI death was reported.

During Tuesday’s press conference, a statement written by the teen’s family was read aloud. “We asked Henry Ford doctors to share that the horrific life-threatening effects of vaping are very real!” the letter stated. “Our family could never have imagined being at the center of the largest adolescent public health crisis to face our country in decades.”

“Within a very short period of time, our lives have been forever changed,” the statement continued. “He has gone from the typical life of a perfectly healthy 16-year old athlete — attending high school, hanging out with friends, sailing and playing video games — to waking up intubated and with two new lungs, facing a long and painful recovery process as he struggles to regain his strength and mobility, which has been severely impacted.”

Despite warnings from health officials, more VAPI patients are ending up in the hospital by the day, and the death toll is steadily rising. Massachusetts recently banned the sales of all vaping products, including marijuana vapes, which are now quarantined by the state. Oregon tried to temporarily ban all flavored vapes, but two lawsuits from the nicotine and marijuana industries have put halts on those bans.

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