A disabled model who suffers extreme muscle pain and weakness claims her condition was caused by becoming addicted to vaping as a teenager.
Vanessa von Schwarz, 20, started vapid when she was just 15 years old after seeing her friends smoking the e-cigarettes in the school toilets.
Before long she was vaping almost continuously and would start to feel nauseous and angry if she went too long without it.
Vanessa, from Los Angeles, California, said: “For some reason when I started vaping, naivety assured me my whole life was changing.
“I felt like it gave me something I didn’t have before; I was thinner, more confident, and I was sure this new me was all thanks to this little metal device I carried in my pocket.
“I struggled with a lot of anxiety, and I would consistently look at the vape thinking it was the only thing there for me at all times.
“That was comforting for me and made letting go even harder.”
The 20 year-old remembers vaping for the very first time in the toilets of her high school in April 2017 when she was 15 and said all the ‘cool’ girls and guys in her school vaped so she felt it was normal.
But she quickly developed a craving and reached a point where she needed to be around her device all the time.
She explained: “I enjoyed the physical head rush vaping would give me.
“Every time I took a hit of my vape, I felt like I was inhaling a big deep breath, one that actually satisfied my body and relaxed me.
“I started to truly believe that vaping had changed my life for the better.
"I definitely think the ‘child friendly’ flavours made the initial use of the vape so enticing. It tasted like candy and was truly delicious.
"After a while though, the fruity flavours became really nauseating and mint became the default since the flavour seemed to suppress hunger the most.
"My friends and I would never eat breakfast or lunch. We mostly just vaped away our hunger and cravings."
‘Consistent migraines and nausea’
In May 2017, Vanessa started feeling the side effects and suffered from muscle weakness in her arms and legs.
She said: “I got out of bed that morning and instantly took a hit. After that, I woke up on the floor and I hadn’t remembered what’d happened.
“I’d clearly fainted, and I was fine, but it was so odd because that had never happened to me in my life.”
From then on, whenever she used her vape, she would feel weak in the knees, her fingers and toes would go numb and her heartbeat sped up.
In 2018 she developed migraines and consistent nausea after just a few hours without a hit.
Her weakness gradually got worse, but she managed to shrug it off until she took up a stylist job and had to be on her feet for up to nine hours a day.
The filmmaking student at The New York Film Academy recalled: “On top of the consistent migraines and nausea, I suddenly was unable to bend my legs fully without being in an immense amount of pain.
“I would come home from work in absolute agony, crying because of how badly my legs ached.
“My upper body became weaker and weaker, and as my legs grew weak and sore, so did my arms and fingers.
“It began to hurt just putting my hair in a ponytail, or even holding a water bottle was too heavy for my hands.
“I couldn’t lift my neck up when I was laying down, and when I’d fall because my legs would give out due to weakness, I couldn’t get up from the ground.”
On 5 November 2019, Vanessa’s heart started to beat very quickly while she was getting ready for work and she felt lightheaded.
She managed to get out of the door to leave, but tripped while running back up the porch steps after realising she forgot something and hit her head.
She was rushed to the hospital by her mum Juana, 50, and doctors questioned her about her recent weakness and falls.
Doctors originally said she must have come into contact with a toxic substance and she needed hydrating to remove it from her body, but she had failed to mention her vaping habit.
It wasn’t until they noticed her creatine kinase levels in her blood were increasing, despite being on constant IV hydration, that she admitted she had been continuing to vape in hospital in secret.
Once doctors knew how excessive her use was, she was advised to stop vaping immediately as there was “not enough research to know how vaping can affect the body.”
Vanessa was discharged from hospital in mid-December but didn’t kick her habit until a year later. She justified continuing to vape after reading some studies online that said it had nothing to do with her condition.
She said: ““That was enough for me to continue my use, despite the painful symptoms I continued to feel.
“In 2020, I was vaping just as heavily as I had been before, but suddenly, the symptoms started to become extremely overbearing to the point where I would have constant panic attacks.
“I would be in public hitting my vape, and all of a sudden my heart would start pounding in my chest, I would feel extremely lightheaded, I started trembling as my muscles tightened, and I felt nauseous all at once.
“My bones felt cold and shaky, I felt like I was going to drop dead on the floor.”
‘The effects are irreversible’
Vanessa was prescribed nicotine patches to ease the cravings after seeking help from her doctor, and said her symptoms started to ease after about a month.
However, she still continues to suffer with dermatomyositis which causes extreme muscle pain and weakness, and believes her early addition to vaping is to blame.
She hopes that by sharing her experiences she can warn others about the potential dangers of what is often thought of as a safer alternative to smoking.
She said: “My case is an example of how detrimental these ‘minor’ and legal substances can be on one’s body.
"Anyone who may be struggling with any sort of addiction, please know there is help.
“It’s a common misconception to believe nicotine is a small, minor addiction, and while that can be true for a lot of people, there are still those remaining that depend on the substance for their happiness, when it is incredibly short lived.
“I hope you will not let any addiction take over your body’s health, because the effects are irreversible.”
Vanessa’s father, Dr. Ernst von Schwarz, 60, is a clinician researcher and has written a report on his daughter’s case.
He believes her serious side effects are "most likely" attributed to her vaping.
He said: "Initially [vaping] was introduced as a way to quit smoking, but now the role has changed immensely because it has become somewhat fashionable and does attract a lot of young people.
"There is very little published on the potential induction of vaping and its toxic effects on the connective tissue.
"Dermatomyositis is basically an inflammation of the skin and the muscle tissues, and usually we see that in elderly people, people with chronic systemic conditions, end-stage cancer patients or in patients with a family history.
"Sometimes it’s as a result of side effects of certain drugs, however Vanessa was not on any medications, and she didn’t have any family history which could lead to this kind of connective tissue disease.
"It is with a high probability that vaping in her particular case caused systemic dermatomyositis and inflammatory response.
"It does demonstrate how dangerous, especially for healthy young people, something like vaping can be."
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