Allison Herger's doctors told her she had pneumonia. But a day into a hospital stay, she could barely breathe. Just one doctor knew what was wrong. She had the vaping disease.
The Centers for Disease Control reports thousands of people have been hospitalized and almost 50 people died across the United States from lung injuries due to vaping. Herger, a Green Bay native, almost joined the death total.
"Your entire chest is just in pain, like it just hurts," said Herger of trying to breathe as her injuries became serious.
Herger had to have oxygen pumped into her body. She almost had to go on a machine to breathe because of her injuries.
"It seems silly but I never thought that like you take for granted breathing, right? That your lungs work and having your lungs not working and taking in oxygen, it's just a very bizarre feeling," she said.
Herger and her primary care doctor didn't think she had vaping injuries. Over the summer, injuries were just starting to pop up across the country. The data available didn't match Herger's characteristics. She was a smoker for 30 years until she turned to vaping to help her quit. Her doctor knew, and she purchased her products legally. Still, her doctor had concerns when Herger apparently had a severe case of pneumonia.
Herger, who lived in Chicago at the time, went to the emergency room at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago. After treatment for pneumonia, Herger still got worse. Dr. Khalilah Gates realized she didn't have pneumonia and the doctors would need to act fast.
"I'm Dr. Gates, I run this unit in the MICU AND I'm sure you have the vaping disease," recalled Herger. "When I heard the vaping disease I got more frightened because not everybody lives."
Dr. Gates tells the I-Team Herger's injuries could have been fatal.
"Whether it's the chemicals In there, the flavorings in there, something is happening deep in the air sacks of the lung, causing an extraordinary amount of inflammation," said Dr. Clara Schroedl, the doctor who took over Herger's case after the left hospital. "We always had some suspicion. We didn't know e-cigarettes or vapes haven't been on the market for very long, they haven't been very well studied so we really weren't sure what the long term outcomes might be."
Dr. Schroedl worries kids and teenagers often take up vaping when they've never smoked. They can vape in schools and at home without anybody knowing. Herger feels that's the reason people need to act now.
"For the sake of kids this should come off the market and I think as adults we shouldn't be promoting this as a good option," Herger said.