Vaping leaves girl, 12, in coma after her lungs became too ‘weak’ to fight infection

Sarah Griffin’s mum Mary feared her daughter might die after vaping left her in a coma in a hospital in Belfast.
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A 12-year-old girl ended up in a coma after vaping left her lungs too “weak” to fight an infection.

Sarah Griffin, who is asthmatic, called her parents in a panic from school one morning because she was struggling to breathe. She was rushed to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where nurses discovered her oxygen levels were dangerously low and transferred her to intensive care.

Here, doctors realised she had developed an infection - but because of how weak her lungs had become, they were forced to put her in a medically induced coma to help her fight it off.

Sarah’s mum Mary Griffin admitted she feared her daughter might die as she described the experience as “a nightmare come true”. She said: “The doctors explained that if Sarah had not been vaping, she would have been in a better position to fight off the infection.

“They added that if Sarah had got to hospital any later, the outcome would have been entirely different. That is something I can’t even think about.”

Twelve-year-old Sarah Griffin, who ended up in a coma after vaping left her lungs too “weak” to fight an infection. Credit: NICHSTwelve-year-old Sarah Griffin, who ended up in a coma after vaping left her lungs too “weak” to fight an infection. Credit: NICHS
Twelve-year-old Sarah Griffin, who ended up in a coma after vaping left her lungs too “weak” to fight an infection. Credit: NICHS

Sarah’s parents initially dismissed her symptoms as asthma after she started coughing one evening. The 12-year-old used an inhaler and nebuliser overnight in an attempt to make herself feel better, but instead felt worse after being dropped off at school the next morning.

She called her mum and said: “Come back Mummy, I don’t feel well. I’m afraid.” Her dad then took her to hospital as quickly as possible.

“Sarah was just in a blind panic, she was terrified,” Ms Griffin said. “She was on oxygen and was linked up to all sorts of machines. There were medical staff all around her assessing her and they said she needed to go to the ICU as she was deteriorating very quickly.”

After four and a half hours in intensive care, Sarah was put in a medically induced coma. Doctors then showed Ms Griffin an x-ray of her daughter’s lungs, which showed one had been seriously injured and caused her to develop an infection.

Because of the injury, Sarah’s other lung was working overtime and making her asthma worse. This left her struggling to breathe.

“Sarah has an older brother and two younger siblings and trying to explain to them what was happening was awful,” Ms Griffin continued. “They were asking if she was going to die, and I was saying, ‘Of course not’, but in my mind I was terrified that was a real possibility.”

Fortunately however, after three days, Sarah was brought out of her coma and doctors were able to remove her ventilator. She is now recovering at home, but as a result of what happened, will be classed as a high-risk patient for the rest of her life, whereas before her asthma was under control.

“She has been through such a trauma,” Ms Griffin said. “She still has a long road ahead of her, but we are just so grateful to have her back home with us.”

Sarah Griffin with her mother Mary. Credit: NICHSSarah Griffin with her mother Mary. Credit: NICHS
Sarah Griffin with her mother Mary. Credit: NICHS

Fidelma Carter, head of public health at NICHS, said: “The biggest misunderstanding about vapes is that they are harmless compared to cigarettes.

“This is not true, and this message needs to change to prevent more young people from taking up vaping and getting addicted because they think they are risk-free. The long-term health implications are unknown – just as they once were with tobacco.”

It comes just after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a crackdown on single-use vapes as he warned that companies appear to be marketing them towards children - with their brightly-coloured packaging, flavours such as “bubblegum”, and their placement in shops (usually by the counter, next to the sweets and chocolate.)

Sunak also announced plans to ban an entire generation from ever smoking, which he said he would do by raising the legal age this year so that no one born after a certain date would ever be able to buy a cigarette.

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