A 22-year-old man who vaped needed a double lung transplant: “I had no idea how dangerous it was”

A 22-year-old man underwent a double lung transplant earlier this month after spending 70 days connected to artificial respiration equipment.

North Dakota resident Jackson Allard went to the emergency room in October for stomach pain, but was admitted to the hospital because his oxygen levels had gotten too low. The news was reported by Valley News Live, which relied on the GoFundMe website created by a friend of Allard’s family.

Doctors in North Dakota diagnosed Allard as suffering from parainfluenza, a virus that can cause respiratory infections. Your state led to pneumonia and then, in acute respiratory distress syndrome, a potentially fatal injury caused by fluid buildup in the lungs.

Jackson Allard, with his mother, Jaime Foertsch.Courtesy of Jaime Foertsch

“When they did the x-rays, you couldn’t even see his heart. It was all white. That means his entire lung was filled with fluid,” said Doreen Hurlburt, Allard’s grandmother.

Hurlburt explained that Allard had used e-cigarettes since he was 16 or 17 years old, but recently began vaping more heavily.

“I had no idea how bad it was for him,” she said. “The day before he was intubated, he said, ‘I had no idea I could get so sick.'”

Scientists still don’t fully understand the relationship between vaping and lung diseases, so it’s unclear what role the practice may have played in Allard’s case. Some studies suggest that the use of electronic cigarettes could increase susceptibility to infections of the respiratory tract.

Dr. Brian Keller, medical director of the Lung Transplant Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, explained that studies with animals and human cells have shown that e-cigarette use can damage the blood vessels and cells that line the lungs. But scientists are still trying to determine which compounds in e-cigarettes are the worst for human health.

“There are actually several that can cause damage,” Keller said. “This includes the nicotine itself, but also the burning of a carrier fluid such as propylene glycol or glycerol, as well as the flavoring that many people add to their vaping device.”

Hurlburt claimed that her grandson’s doctors suspected that e-cigarette use prevented him from recovering from his initial viral infection.

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“When he didn’t get better, they told him: ‘Well, you smoked and smoking damages your lungs,'” he explained.

Allard’s mother, Jaime Foertsch, said her son was hooked up to a device called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, and airlifted to M Health Fairview in Minnesota in late October.

According to Foertsch, Allard was the patient who had been connected to an ECMO machine the longest, which adds oxygen to the blood and returns it to the body. A hospital representative declined to comment Monday, citing the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which safeguards patient privacy.

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To be considered for a transplant, Allard had to be no longer sedated and able to walk. But late last year, he was in a battle for his life: Doctors twice had to replace parts of his ECMO device because of blood clots, which could have been fatal. On December 12 he suffered cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated.

“In several meetings with the family, the (Surgical Intensive Care Unit) team stated that he had a 1% chance of survival,” Foertsch explained in an email. “We never gave up and continued to advocate for Jackson.”

Jackson Allard, in the hospital.
Jackson Allard, in the hospital. Courtesy Jaime Foertsch

By the end of the month, Allard had improved, being able to stand and take a few steps, his family said.

“All of a sudden there was a turn (for the better),” Hurlburt said. “It was like day to night.”

On New Year’s Eve, Foertsch received a call telling him that doctors had allocated a pair of lungs for his son. Allard received the transplant the next day. On January 5 he no longer needed assisted breathing.

According to his mother, Allard is still on a ventilator in the intensive care unit, but is able to get in and out of bed with a little assistance and walk about 1.5 meters with a walker.

“The nurses They call him a legend and a miracle“said Foertsch. “He is getting stronger every day and hopes to be moved to rehab soon.”

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Hurlbult said her grandson has yet to learn to speak again, but is able to communicate.

“He thanked the nurses for all the help,” she said. “He just said, ‘Thank you for working so hard to save me.’ He’s a very sweet boy.”

Lung transplants are relatively rare, and even more unusual in people under 50 years of age. Of the 2,569 lung transplants performed in the United States in 2021, only 440 were for recipients between 18 and 49 years old. Most vaping-related lung injuries do not require a transplant, but patients typically require some form of respiratory support such as supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation.

“I’ve only found a couple of cases of patients who have needed a lung transplant after using tobacco,” Keller said.

A 17-year-old from Michigan who received a transplant in 2019 is believed to be the first case. Last year, a 34-year-old man in Missouri also received a double lung transplant after developing a life-threatening lung infection that was resistant to antibiotics. The patient had a history of cigarette smoking and I had also vaped for nine years..

About 54% of people who receive a lung transplant survive at least five years after the intervention.

According to Hurlbult, Allard will have to spend about six months in Minneapolis so doctors can monitor his progress and make sure he tolerates the transplant well. But his family hopes he makes a full recovery.

“He’s going to get his life back,” Hurlbult said. “Let’s get our Jackson back.”