Maarius Dennis believed vaping was safe. Of course, he had no doubts that it could be potentially harmful because he was using it to administer nicotine. But he deemed it safe in general. As a former smoker, he found it helpful as a way to quit cigarettes.
As he gazes at the vape pen, he wonders what made him take it up, as he is painfully aware of how unsafe it may be.
He started five years ago, and like many smokers thought it could be an excellent way to stay away from cigarettes. At least that’s how the equipment has been advertised. Resting at his home, with an oxygen tank next to him, he is trying to figure out what went wrong, and how he ended up as a regular in the intensive care unit. He spends most of his time in ICU beds with a couple of tubes sticking out.
He told his story to a reporter on Monday, during one of his better days, which he is allowed to spend with his family. However, breathing aids have to be by his side all the time.
Maaruis is only one of the 71 residents of Utah that suffers from a mysterious disease that seems to be connected to vaping and related products. The illness attacks the lungs and appears to be very dangerous, if not even deadly. There are ten more cases under examination that show similar symptoms.
Utah is not the only state facing this problem as there are over 800 cases reported all over the country, with 15 people who succumbed to it.
Since his first hospitalization, Maarius had three surgeries due to the collapse of both of his lungs. He now has to use an oxygen tank non-stop, as he is unable to breathe on his own.
He says that his condition kept going from bad to worse, and then worse some more. He spent the entire summer in a hospital. For two months, all the doctors could do was guess, because they never encountered anything like it. Soon, many more cases started popping up all over the States. Now, they call it an epidemic.
In late July, Maarius started to show the first symptoms. Initially, it was a mild fever that wouldn’t go away. Concerned for his health, Dennis’ fiancee persuaded him to see a doctor. At the hospital, the doctors were convinced that he suffered from pneumonia, or from a possible reaction to cleaning chemicals he used the day before.
On his second day, they had to put him on oxygen, as he was unable to breathe. A week later, after an X-ray showed no signs of an injury or malignant presence on his lungs, he was released.
The real drama began 12 hours later. What started as a simple cough while he was watching TV, turned into near suffocation with extreme pain. His lung collapsed, and he had to undergo an immediate operation to save his life.
He describes the experience as similar to staying underwater for too long, where you try to reach the surface while fighting off panic. Only, you are not really under the water, and there is no surface to rush to. He explains that he has never been so afraid in his entire life. The whole time he was half-conscious and believed that he might die.
Since then, Maarius has been living in the labyrinth of medical procedures, high-dose painkillers, and severe pain. Though he has a hard time remembering, his family told him that he had three near-death seizures over 15 days. His other lung stopped functioning as well. He was placed on the two-hour rotation of different medications and had to receive an epidural. The best diagnosis he got was the atypical pneumonitis.
Although he can’t remember, he said his family told him that he asked to die because he could not stand the pain and suffering anymore.
It is still unclear what is the cause of the outbreak. The alarming number of patients are relying on the officials to provide help and advice, but there are no solid conclusions yet. What seems to be connecting all the cases is the history of using e-cigarettes and similar vaping tools.
It seems that patients have been using vaporizers for both nicotine and THC. Also, it’s not just one brand or a specific product that links the cases, so the investigation is still at the beginning.
The good news is coming from the doctors in Utah, who think they are making progress towards a possible effective treatment.
What we learn from the report of the CDCP, more than 75% of the patients vaped THC within 30 days before the offset of the symptoms. More than 55% reported using nicotine, but only 16% of those used pure substance, while others seem to have mixed it with THC.
Maarius was using only nicotine products, which he always bought in the local shop. At the time of the interview on Monday, he marked his second week at home. Unfortunately, later that day, he had to be admitted to the hospital again because his condition worsened.
We can only hope that the swift and efficient investigation conducted by several government agencies can provide necessary answers, so that epidemics can be stopped as soon as possible.