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‘I almost died’: Local college student warns against vaping, spent eight days in the ICU

After more than two years of unexplained health issues, pneumonia and a vaping-induced lung injury, a 21-year-old college senior said enough was enough and is pleading with those who vape to stop.

Brittany Wallace grew up in Lexington and said she was healthy until she started smoking and vaping four years ago.

“I remember we were studying for finals and then and she [my roommate] would just like go smoke,” she said about how she started smoking. “She would come back and be so happy and in such a better mood. So, I started to smoke cigarettes with her and the taste was horrible. So, people were like, ‘Oh, you should just pick up vaping, it tastes so much better.'”

Wallace said it did not take long before she was hooked.

“I needed it, or I felt like I needed it after that. So, unfortunately, I couldn’t keep it social. It was so that I even did it day in and day out,” she explained.

Two years into her addiction, she said unexplained symptoms started making her think she had gallbladder problems or was anemic. But it was not until the spring of 2021 that she started to take her symptoms seriously.

“I’m feeling like I have allergies. So, I’m just like, ‘OK, no big deal.” You know, I’ll take some Zyrtec,” she explained. “A week passed, and like every day it just gets progressively worse … So, I start treating cold symptoms, and it’s just like again getting worse and worse and worse. And then on the day that I went to the hospital, I woke up at 2 a.m. and I want to say it was vomit, but it was not. Like, it was this clear fluid that was like literally, I was drowning in fluid and it was in my lungs.”

Once at Central Baptist Health Hospital in Lexington, she said the medical team quickly diagnosed her with pneumonia and a vaping-induced lung injury.

“Usually pneumonia only affects like one lobe of your lungs, and on my X-ray, it’s literally in every part of my lungs on both sides,” Wallace said. “They were like, ‘Are you a smoker?’ I was like, ‘Great, I’ve done it. Like, this is, this is my fault.'”

After eight days in the ICU, Wallace was released to continue to recover at home.

“I took a walk to my mailbox and it felt like 100 bricks were lying on my chest,” she said, “It was crazy. and I have this horribly irritating cough.”

She said her doctors told her she should recover but it will take time.

“They’re just watching me with X-rays, CT scans and blood work and stuff like that,” Wallace said. “But, I think just the exposure for so long to all the chemicals just really has taken a toll on my lungs. And even my voice sounds different now.”

After what she said was a near-death experience, Wallace said she is on a mission to tell her story and to prevent others from going through what she did.

“I literally told a girl on Man-O-War road yesterday because I saw her smoking — I was just like, ‘I was in the ICU for eight days. Please throw it out!’ She was like, ‘What?!'” Wallace said. “People probably think I’m crazy but I will holler at you from across the way. I don’t care if I see you smoking, I’m gonna be like, ‘You need to drop that.'”

 

Claire Kopsky/Lex18