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Local vaping illness survivor speaks out after being in the ICU for two weeks

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Illinois is leading the nation in vaping-related illnesses.

Now, one Springfield woman said she experienced the unthinkable and found herself in the Intensive Care Unit, unconscious for nearly two weeks.

The reason she ended up there is due to a commonplace activity you may do every day.

You hear about vaping and the stories of people dying or even having damaged lungs as a result.

Katie Johnson is one of those people who heard the stories. But, she said the whole idea of ‘this will never happen to me,’ is a dangerous motto to live by because it nearly cost her her life.

“I didn’t even put it together when it happened to me that this was vaping-related,” said Katie.

You see them on the shelf and they’re usually affordable, typically costing no more than $50. I’ve been a smoker for about a decade,” said Katie.

She talks about the products she used, none of which are JUUL. She said they are all legal, commonplace items that can be bought on shelves.

Katie believed the mindset of ‘it will never happen to me,’ until it did.

“I woke up that day to go to my externship for phlebotomy and like, 24 hours later, I was on life support,” said Katie.

Realizing she couldn’t get a full breath, she went to Urgent Care believing it was an asthma attack.

“She suffered from severe lung injury, which we call Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and there can be numerous reasons for ARDS,” said HSHS St. John’s Medical Director for Critical Care Dr. Prashant Jagtap.

Vaping is what caused Katie’s case and her lungs, according to her mother Julie Johnson, who said she couldn’t believe what her daughter’s lungs looked like.

“They didn’t look anything at all like healthy lungs. They looked horrible,” said Julie.

Doctors at HSHS St. John’s Hospital told Katie’s family her lungs were failing as a result of using vaping and e-cigarette products, some of which she said contained traces of CBD.

“The progression or the decline is extremely rapid when these situations arise and that’s where it matters to start the appropriate treatment,” said Dr. Jagtap.

Katie’s case comes on the heels of an alarming statistic that five people have died in Illinois. That is the most deaths from these products of any state in the country when it comes to lung injuries connected to vaping or e-cigarette use.

“The second I walked into her room in the cardiovascular intensive care unit where she had ECMO hooked up and a great big hole in her neck for the cannula, my mouth dropped open and I started crying,” said Julie.

ECMO is short for Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation and uses a pump that helps circulate blood into and out of an artificial lung to help anyone that may have bad lungs.

Katie still carries a reminder of her time in the HSHS St. John’s ICU through her scars but said she considers herself one of the fortunate ones.

She also said she owes a big thank you to every doctor and nurse who assisted her throughout her time. Her face lit up while talking about them as she credits them with saving her life. HSHS St. John’s is equipped with doctors and machines that can deal with these types of situations.

“I thought my chances were over but I’ve been given this new chance and I feel like I really have to take advantage of it and I want people to know how serious it is,” said Katie.

She said for anyone who still uses vape pens or e-cigarettes to heed the warnings because choosing to ignore them can truly be a life-changing decision.

Katie is still in the process of recovery and said she hopes by sharing her story it can help open eyes as to what the dangers are and how quickly they can happen.

The Illinois Department of Public Health continues to urge the public against using vaping products or e-cigarettes. There have been cases reported in 32 counties in Illinois.

Amanda Henderson/ABC20