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AFP
November 24, 2019

22-year-old and on the brink of death from vaping

World

AFP
November 24, 2019

WASHINGTON: With a raging fever, vomiting and diarrhea, Gregory Rodriguez thought he had some kind of bug when he checked himself into the emergency room at a New York hospital in September.

Two days later, he was unconscious, hooked up to an artificial lung and a candidate for a double lung transplant.

Doctors have attributed it to his constant e-cigarette use.

But emergency physicians in Jamaica – Rodriguez’s Queens neighbourhood — did not immediately make the connection with vaping. As was often the case at the start of the vaping epidemic, discovered over the summer, doctors initially sent Gregory home with antibiotics, thinking he only had an infection.

But then Rodriguez returned to the hospital, unable to breathe, and admitted to vaping cannabis for the past two years.

On September 18, his body quickly broke down. He was hooked up to a ventilator, but it wasn’t enough.

His lungs were filled with a viscous substance, like custard, due to extreme inflammation of his respiratory airways. Oxygen could no longer enter his bloodstream.

As a last resort, doctors hooked Rodriguez up to an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine: the machine pumps blood out of a patient’s body to oxygenate it, and then re-injects it into the veins. Rodriguez was placed in an induced coma for three days to ensure he wouldn’t suffer during the procedure.

His lungs were able to recover while the machine stood in for them. The procedure saved him, and he didn’t need a lung transplant.

He returned home after only 12 days in the hospital, a relatively short time compared to patients with similar cases.

His situation, however, was still one of the more severe. At the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, five out of 40 patients were as serious as Gregory.

There have been 47 vaping-related deaths in the United States this year, and 2,290 cases of vaping-related sickness worldwide.

Authorities blame vitamin E acetate, one of the additives in THC vaping fluid, for the illnesses.

Two months later, he’s no longer breathless all the time. But his pulmonary capacity has been reduced to 60 percent, according to his doctor.

Last summer, suffering from depression, he began smoking more, almost an entire cartridge every two days.

Rodriguez nevertheless pinpointed a contradiction in American marijuana regulation: federal authorities are debating a ban on flavoured electronic cigarettes, to prevent young people from vaping.

But since the substance is federally outlawed, authorities can’t regulate or control cannabis-based e-cigarette liquids that are permitted at the state level.