A woman who quit vaping says she is ‘happy to be alive’ after her addiction saw her put on life support while battling a life-threatening lung condition.
Amanda Stelzer, 34, started smoking e-cigarettes seven years ago when her friends took up the habit and found the different flavours gave her a “buzz”.
The supermarket cashier, from Delaware, Ohio, USA, was getting through two four-packs of liquid cartridges every week or the equivalent of more than one cartridge a day, and her addiction eventually led to her being in hospital.
Ms Stelzer visited an urgent care centre in October 2019 as she was struggling to breathe. She was also suffering from severe lower back pain and felt like her heart was "beating out of her chest".
Despite extensive blood and urine tests, doctors were unable to work out what was wrong and so she was sent to hospital in an ambulance. Within 24 hours of arriving, the 34-year-old was put on life support.
She said: “I was crying because I was in so much pain. I was so scared. The last thing I remember is someone handing me a form and basically saying I needed to sign this if I wanted to live - that was the consent form to be put on life support.”
Ms Stelzer was on life support for about eight days, with doctors warning her family that she may remain that way for at least three months. Medics were still not unsure about the cause of her symptoms until her mother asked a nurse if it could have anything to do with her vaping, which then prompted them to scan her chest.
She was then diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) - a life-threatening injury where the lungs cannot provide enough oxygen to the body - and medical staff confirmed that her diagnosis was a direct result of vaping.
Ms Stelzer was discharged from hospital two weeks later but was unable to work, see family and friends, or be around people using cigarettes and vaping for six months while her lungs healed.
ARDS is a serious condition and will affect her long-term, as another bout of illness could cause her to end up back in hospital. It was recommended that she use nicotine lozenges while her body was still healing, but also to help her suffering from nicotine withdrawals.
‘It seems harmless until it isn’t’
Following her time in the hospital, Ms Stelzer suffered huge financial losses and mental health issues. She said: “I was lucky that I owned my car at the time and my insurance covered my treatment, but I still got into a lot of debt.
“It was depressing. I was happy to be alive but I was sad that I couldn’t work and I couldn’t be around family and friends without a mask.
“It was awkward having to disinfect everything and ask people not to vape or smoke around me anymore. I even lost two friends because they refused to quit.”
Ms Stelzer now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of her experience, but described her health at the moment as “amazing”, adding that she is in the best position she has ever been in - with lots of supportive friends and family members around her.
She has vowed to never touch a vape again and hopes that her experience will serve as the wake-up call someone else needs. She added: “It seems harmless until it isn’t. You never know what can happen - I thought it was no big deal when I started.
“It is dangerous and I don’t want someone else to go through what I went through. People might not want to see it or hear it but if it helps just one person stop, I’ll be happy.”