A suburban Chicago teen was on her way to college when her family says she nearly died from a sudden lung illness after vaping.
Piper Johnson was driving with her mother, Ruby Johnson, from their New Lenox home to college in Colorado last month when she became ill while traveling through Nebraska.
"We seriously thought this would be a quick visit, that she possibly had bronchitis and she'd be fixed up quick and moving into her dorm the next day," Ruby Johnson said. "That isn't at all what happened."
An urgent care visit showed what doctors believed to be "early pneumonia," but Johnson's family said things declined very quickly.
Piper Johnson was admitted to the emergency room the following morning and ultimately spent a week in the hospital, becoming Colorado's first case of "sudden and severe lung illness due to vaping."
"Things declined very very quickly and when she was sent to the ER the following morning a CT scan showed what the ER doctor called a diffuse pneumonia - not just contained to one lobe of the lungs- hers was all over," Ruby Johnson wrote on Facebook. "And in the meantime, they struggled to get a pulse ox reading in the 90s. It became clear we weren’t moving her in. In fact, we weren’t leaving the hospital at all that day. Or any day soon."
The 18-year-old told her parents she'd been vaping two to three flavored nicotene pods a week. Her parents said they had no idea.
Now that her daughter is expected to make a full recovery, Ruby Johnson has shared Piper's story to social media with a warning. It has since been shared more than 500,000 times.
"Share Piper’s story. Do your research," she wrote. "Talk to your kids. Talk to their friends. Talk until you’re out of breath, or they just might be."
The family is calling on the FDA to clamp down on the manufacturers of vaping devices. They have also contacted Sen. Dick Durbin's office, with plans to go to Springfield to share their story.
And the Johnson family isn't alone.
A recent high school graduate is recovering in a Chicago-area hospital after doctors say he became seriously ill as a result of smoking e-cigarettes and using THC products.
According to the family of 18-year-old Adam Hergenreder, he became ill after smoking a Juul pod a day for roughly a year and a half. Each pod comes with approximately one pack of cigarettes’ worth of nicotine, according to the Truth Initiative, an anti-smoking campaign aimed at preventing young people from beginning to smoke.
The teen also admitted to smoking a separate device that contained THC, the chemical responsible for most of marijuana's psychological effects, according to physicians.
"If he had stayed home and said 'I'll just sleep through it,' it's possible he could have died," Dr. Steven Amesbury, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Advocate Condell Medical Center, said.
Dr. Amesbury says that the infection was caused by vaping, and that despite treatments that include breathing machines, steroids, antibiotics, and other medicines, there is a chance his lungs will never operate at 100 percent again.
"This lung injury is one we're seeing more of in vapers," Dr. Amesbury said. "There's been more reports and more hospitals are seeing it now. His chest X-ray showed changes throughout his lungs on both sides and there was no other clear explanation as to why he'd have that."
In a statement, Juul said that it takes product safety "very seriously" and that it makes sure to include pertinent warnings on all of its products.
"We have implemented industry-leading quality controls and appropriately labelled our products with ingredient disclosures and health warnings," a company spokesperson said in a statement. "Our device and manufacturing facilities are subject to numerous quality and certification standards and we conduct extensive preclinical and toxicological testing of the ingredients and analytes in Juul e-liquids and aerosols.
"As to this particular reported event, we do not have any details beyond what is being reported by the media, including what or whose products were actually consumed. We will continue to vigilantly monitor for any evidence of safety issues," the statement continued.
Hergenreder's mother also spoke out about his tribulations, saying that she hopes her son's example will dissuade others from using vaping products.
"He's living proof of what it does. I'm a believer in fate, and I believe this happened for a reason," she said. "I believe Adam's purpose is to educate people."
The stories come amid growing national concern about the safety of e-cigarettes and vaping.
There has been at least one death in Illinois possibly linked to vaping and at least 22 other hospitalizations, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Several municipalities and governments have filed lawsuits against companies, saying that their advertising campaigns and literature have influenced teens to use their products.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a 78 percent increase in high school students using e-cigarettes from 2017 to 2018, and a nearly 50 percent increase among middle school students.