The incident comes as the CDC has announced an investigation of nearly 150 cases of serious respiratory issues linked to e-cigarettes in 15 states.
Tryston Zohfeld of Weatherford, TX, wasn’t feeling like himself on July 21. He was tired and chilled to the bone, unable to warm up even in his sweats, wrapped in two heavy comforters.
On July 26, the 17-year-old woke his mother and said he was having a hard time breathing. As he was telling her how bad he felt, he vomited.
He was taken to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. And though he’d been diagnosed with the flu earlier, the doctors at Cook knew that wasn’t right.
“They said it would be extremely rare to see extreme flu cases in Texas in the summer,” said Matt Zohfeld, Tryston’s father. “They did a more in-depth flu test, and it was negative.”
Tryston’s health quickly got worse. Within 48 hours, he was on a machine to help him breathe. His lungs were full of fluid, and doctors were stumped. They intubated him — inserting a tube to help him breathe — and put him in a coma for the next 10 days.
“As his Cook Children’s pediatrician, I was sent daily updates about him,” Diane Arnaout, MD, Tryston’s pediatrician, wrote on the Cook Children’s website. “I found myself holding my breath every time I opened the update — and I audibly gasped the moment I realized he was intubated.”
“The doctors say now they didn’t know if he was going to pull through,” Matt Zohfeld said. “When a doctor tells you they don’t know what the problem is and they’re concerned, it’s extremely scary.”
Doctors asked endless questions, trying to piece together an explanation for Tryston’s illness: Had he been swimming in lakes? Had he traveled out of the country?
It wasn’t until Tryston’s parents spoke with his cousin that doctors began to realize it may be linked to vaping.
“Look, nobody is in trouble, but is there any information you can give us?” Tryston’s father asked his cousin.
They were told their son had been vaping, and they later learned he had been doing it since he was 14.
“The doctors came back to us after he’d been on the ventilator for 7 or 8 days and said, ‘We do have a theory it could be caused by the vaping,’ ” Matt Zohfeld said. “With that type of respiratory distress, there’s no treatment. You just keep them alive and hope for the best.”
The health effects of vaping are still being researched. The CDC says that while it has not identified a cause of the lung illnesses, all cases have reported using e-cigarettes. Most are among teens and young adults.
Tryston’s doctors concluded his sickness was likely linked to vaping after other possible diagnoses failed to explain it, Matt Zohfeld said.
After spending 18 days at Cook, Tryston is now home recuperating. He is much weaker and about 30 pounds lighter, his father said, but he is doing physical therapy twice a week and making progress.
“They’re going week by week,” Matt said. “He’ll probably always have a certain diminished ability. But he’s definitely doing much better.”