Detroit hospital performs double-lung transplant on vape-injured teen facing 'imminent death'

'It’s an evil I’ve never faced before': Dr. Hassan Nemeh said in his 20 years of surgery he had never seen lungs as badly scarred as the vaping patient's

Dr. Hassan Nemeh of Detroit’s Henry Ford hospital points to an image of the transplant patient's damaged lungs on the left, beside an image of typical healthy lungs. Facebook/Henry Ford Health System

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WARNING: Story contains graphic image.

Medical staff at Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System hospital performed a double-lung transplant on a patient who suffered from a vaping injury in both lungs.

Henry Ford announced on Monday that it’s the first procedure of its kind in the United States on someone who has developed irreparable lung damage due to vaping. On Tuesday, the hospital and five of the doctors involved shared more details about the surgery during a news conference.

The patient is between 16-17 years old, while he and his parents wanted his story and photographs of his lungs to be shared to warn others about the dangers surrounding vaping.

“This teenager faced imminent death had he not received a lung transplant,” said Dr. Hassan Nemeh, surgical director of thoracic organ transplant at Henry Ford hospital.


Nehem showed areas of the boy’s lungs, compared to those of a healthy person. On the right was a photo of normal lungs, with large areas of black hues that showed normal ventilation. The boy’s lungs, shown on the left, only featured a small pocket (black hue) on the right side that had normal ventilation; the rest of his lungs were scarred and inflamed.

Nehem said during the news conference that throughout his 20 years of dealing with lung transplants, he had never seen lungs such as the ones that belonged to the boy. “It’s an evil I’ve never faced before…,” said Nehem. “I expect him to be an advocate to end this madness.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 2,051 cases of illnesses relating to e-cigarettes or vaping, also known as EVALI, as of Nov. 5. The CDC, which has been releasing and tracking statistics since March, has also reported 39 related deaths.

One of the patient’s vape-damaged lungs. Courtesy Henry Ford Hospital

The patient’s ordeal started on Sept. 5, when he was brought to St. John Hospital with what appeared to be pneumonia. He was intubated on Sept. 12, as his ability to breathe became worse, and then less than a week later, brought to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, where he was given access to an ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) in order to save his life.

Despite the ECMO, the patient wasn’t recovering. He was then transported to Henry Ford Hospital on Oct. 3, and because his lung damage and overall state was so poor, he received a transplant on Oct 15, just a week after applying. He’s currently recovering, and was taken off the ventilator on Oct. 27, as he aims to regain his strength.

Doctors and surgeons part of the process aren’t able to target the specific vaping contents that contributed to his injury. The CDC hasn’t pinpointed the primary ingredient behind EVALI, but it has found associations with vitamin E acetate, which is an additive in some THC products. The CDC says that THC, known as Tetrahydrocannabinol (the psychoactive compound found in cannabis), has been present in most of the tested samples.

National and state findings suggest that these THC containing products, are particularly from “informal sources”, such as “friends, or family, or in-person or online dealers, [and] are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.”

As the CDC continues researching, they recommend people should not “Buy any type of e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly those containing THC, off the street.” They should also refrain from “[Modifying or adding] any substances to e-cigarette, or vaping, products that are not intended by the manufacturer, including products purchased through retail establishments.”

While the patient has a very good prognosis, recovery will be a long and intense, the hospital says. Courtesy Henry Ford Hospital