College athlete hospitalized for 5 months, could lose lung after vaping, dad says

By Caitlin O'Kane

/ CBS News

A father from Florida says his 20-year-old son is one of many young patients diagnosed with a serious illness linked to vaping. As of August 22, the CDC said it was investigating at least 193 potential cases of severe lung illness in 22 states associated with e-cigarette products. However, Florida is not on that list of states.

Dave McKnight told CBS News his son Walker was hospitalized in early March for several illnesses, including a "vicious pneumonia" and adenovirus.

The younger McKnight was just two months into his freshman year at Florida Atlantic University when he became addicted to Juul, his dad said. A year later, the decorated cheer athlete was in the ICU.

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McKnight had received a full scholarship to FAU. "He is a very upstanding young man, people love and respect him," his father said. "He was very healthy. He worked his ass off through high school. He was on four cheer teams his senior year."

McKnight said despite the fact that his son was healthy and athletic, vaping deteriorated his health. And so when he contracted the adenovirus — a common bug that causes respiratory illness — he could not recover from it.

Health officials probing 193 cases of severe lung illness associated with vaping

"If his lungs had been in clean, easy, in good health, without this moister from the vaping, they would've fought off this adenovirus," McKnight said. "He would not have gone through what he went through."

McKnight told CBS News that he asked the hospital if they were going to report his son's case to the state health department or the CDC, but the hospital said they are not required to do so. "That's another problem with this whole vaping situation," he said.

CBS News has reached out to the CDC to see if McKnight's case is on their radar, as well as to AdventHealth hospital in Orlando, where he was treated. The cases currently being monitored by the CDC in other states were reported between June 28 and August 20. McKnight's case occurred in March, his dad said.

The CDC says in many of the cases patients experienced symptoms gradually, which included "breathing difficulty, shortness of breath, and/or chest pain before hospitalization." Some patients also reported mild to moderate gastrointestinal illness, such as vomiting and diarrhea, and fatigue.

In McKnight's case, he had sinus pressure and flu-like symptoms, his dad said. The family thought he had a simple infection, and he went to a hospital near school in Boca Raton, where he was prescribed antibiotics and steroids.

However, shortly after his first visit to the hospital, he was "hit like a freight train," his dad said. He was throwing up, and had shakes and shivers. McKnight managed to get home to his parents in Orlando, and they took him to AdventHealth hospital there.

The doctors at AdventHealth admitted McKnight to the ICU. "They were totally taken by surprise," the elder McKnight told CBS News.

Doctor on vaping: “Nobody is saying that this has value or benefit” for youths

He was eventually discharged after about five months, but McKnight's dad said as of Thursday, he is back in the hospital after experiencing more breathing problems. "They are looking to remove his left lung now. His left lung is completely demolished."

"I wouldn't wish this on anyone," he said, calling vaping "a huge problem." "It turned our family inside out and upside down."

McKnight is hopeful that his son will regain strength and get through this illness.

At least patient who contracted a serious lung disease after vaping has died in Illinois, officials in the state reported last week. It's believed to be the first death in the United States linked to e-cigarettes.

First published on August 29, 2019 / 2:22 PM

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