When 19-year-old Claire Chung took to Instagram this week to share harrowing images of her battle with EVALI (e-cigarette and vaping product use associated lung injury), she couldn’t have anticipated the impact they would have. “I never even expected it to reach anyone besides my own friends,” she wrote in a follow-up post to images of her in a hospital bed and scans of her lung. “But [I] am so appreciative of how many others have taken the time to read my story and have taken interest in my recovery and well-being.”
Chung’s first image, posted on December 29, shows her in a hospital bed, attached to oxygen and IVs. In the text below, she writes that she’d endured a fever of 104 degrees for three weeks with no other symptoms before doctors decided to take X-rays of her chest. The scans, she said, revealed “disturbing” results. “Healthy lungs on a scan should be black. My 19 year old lungs were completely hazy and white in the scans, entirely covering both lungs … “ she wrote. Chung said the doctors first suspected she had a serious infection like pneumonia before realizing that vaping was to blame.
“After conducting many more tests and a bronchoscopy, it was determined that there was no infection and that my lung tissue was just completely destroyed from using juuls and vapes and oil cartridges,” she wrote. (By the time of publishing, Juul had not responded to Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment on the matter).
The post, which has since received over 250,000 likes and hundreds of comments, was followed up by another on Monday showing the X-rays and CT scans that Chung had mentioned.
The images show extreme inflammation and significant loss of lung function, similar to those of another teen who captured national attention in November for receiving a double lung transplant. Like that teen’s doctors, Chung says the experts at Gaithersburg Medical Center — where she was treated — were stunned (the hospital has not returned Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment). “When the pulmonologist came to me with the results, he was in complete shock,” she wrote. “He genuinely had no reaction other than ‘wow.’ This is a lung specialist who looks at diseased scans everyday for a living telling a NINETEEN year old girl that he’s never seen anything like this before.”
Chung went on to reveal how terrifying it was to hear doctors explain that the situation may be life or death, as well as how quickly the illness took over. “The scariest part is that even with the extent of the damage, I never once felt any of it,” she wrote. “I never experienced any shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest pain, or ANY signs respiratory distress or issues. It is truly a SILENT killer.”
The Maryland teen, who seems to be in recovery, says she regrets not quitting sooner and that she was given “countless warnings to stop.”
In the days after, Chung’s posts have elicited both well wishes from those in the comments, as well as criticism from those who say that Juul is not responsible for the acute-lung injuries, which have sent over 2,600 Americans to the hospital and led to 57 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indeed, the e-cigarette maker has distanced itself from the vaping crisis, which has been traced mostly to vitamin E acetate found in black market THC vaping products, not their products.
But a study from Harvard University Medical Center earlier this week uncovered traces of microbial toxins in Juul pods, which have the potential to cause severe long-term lung damage. While it’s unclear whether Juul is solely responsible for the acute damage to Chung’s lungs, she hopes that the posts will send a message to others to stay away from vaping.