Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas
The Hazards of Vaping
Army Veteran Blake Annunziato, not yet 30 years old, recently thought he would require a lung transplant due to vaping-induced pneumonia. Now, he just hopes to one day regain 80 percent of his lung capacity.
Like many, Annunziato began with cigarettes. He quit them because he didn’t like the offensive odor and subsequently switched to smokeless tobacco. Annunziato said he thought vaping would be ideal because he could do it anywhere. He vaped tobacco and once his Army career ended, he added THC.
“Within a year I had developed bilateral severe pneumonia that nearly killed me,” Annunziato said. “My oxygen levels went from 100 to 88. Had they gone to 87 I was going to be put on a respirator and be on the list for new lungs.”
Instead he went through a course of three different antibiotics, IV steroids, suffered a pulmonary embolism, and had a 103.8 fever that didn’t break for a week. His resting heart rate was 130.
“Just standing would leave me gasping for air,” he said. “I was constantly out of breath, reaching for air that wasn’t there. It was scary.”
To this day, Annunziato takes a steroid to help his lungs and does daily breathing treatments with oxygen tanks. He is on blood thinners, antibiotics, and a number of other medications.
Annunziato couldn’t kick vaping even after his health scare, so he reached out to Susan Bogard, RN, Health Promotion/Disease Prevention program manager, to help him kick his habit. Bogard runs the smoking cessation classes at Houston VA Medical Center.
“Blake was having intense cravings,” said Bogard, “and he was upset with himself because he had vaped a few times since his hospitalization. When he reached out to me and said he needed help ASAP, I knew I needed to act quickly.”
Bogard worked with his prime care team to get him nicotine replacement therapy ordered immediately.
“I feel like I’m getting better each day,” said Annunziato. “I’m getting stronger and my medication doses have gone down.”
For Annunziato the important thing is to warn young people of the dangers of vaping.
“Just know that you are not getting the lesser of two evils with vaping,” he said. “It’s a big myth. My advice would be follow the cessation class, deal with the cravings as they come, and find coping mechanisms. I always considered smoking-related illness to be linked with long-term use and old age, but this is hitting young people. It can potentially turn your life upside down.”
Bogard agrees, adding, “Vaping is geared toward our youth with flavors like cotton candy and other pleasant flavors. The fact is, you really don’t know what you are inhaling into your lungs.”
Veterans interested in quitting tobacco should call (713) 791-1414, extension 28768.