The mother of a 20-year-old college athlete who nearly died from vaping has blasted the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to regulate e-cigarettes.
Walker McKnight had just started his freshman year on a cheerleading scholarship at Florida Atlantic University when he first tried JUUL in November 2018.
Within months, he was addicted to the mango-flavored pods.
Despite being fit and athletic, McKnight’s health quickly began deteriorating until he had to be hospitalized in March.
He spent five months hooked up to a respirator and doctors determined that vaping had destroyed his left lung and both of kidneys.
McKnight returned home in July, and was visited by FDA investigators, who asked him several questions about his e-cigarette use and where had had bought the device and pod, reported PEOPLE.
‘I’m glad to see you here, but where the hell were you four years ago when you [allowed] these stupid things?!’ his mother, Candy, said she told the investigators.
Walker McKnight, 20, from Orlando, Florida, started using JUUL during his freshman year at Florida Atlantic University in November 2018. Pictured: McKnight in recovery
McKnight started experiencing flu-like symptoms and sinus pressure earlier this year. His family took him to the hospital in March after he began vomiting and developed a high fever. Pictured: McKnight, left, and right, in the hospital
McKnight told PEOPLE that he tried his first JUUL in November 2018.
‘It was a really intense, good feeling,’ he said. ‘I could feel my whole body throbbing and tingling.’
He purchased his own e-cigarette in December as well as a package of pods at a gas station by his parents’ house.
‘After about a week and a half, I stopped getting buzzed from it, but I’d get nervous and twitchy if I didn’t have it,’ he said.
‘[I thought]: ‘If I want to give it up, I’ll just give it up. But by then I was hooked on it just like everyone else.’
Then, in March 2019, McKnight began experiencing flu-like symptoms and sinus pressure, so he assumed he had a mild infection.
He went to a hospital near his university in Boca Raton, where doctors sent him home with antibiotics and steroids, reported PEOPLE.
However, days later, he began vomiting and developed a high fever and chills.
‘My chest hurt so bad I couldn’t even see straight,’ McKnight said.
He drove 200 miles to his parents’ home in Orlando, and his parents took him to AdventHealth hospital.
McKnight was admitted to the ICU and diagnosed with ‘severe pneumonia’ and adenovirus. Pictured: McKnight in the hospital with family
He was hooked up to a respirator, and doctors discovered vaping permanently destroyed his left lung and both kidneys. In July, he was discharged after five months in the hospital. Pictured: McKnight with his father, left, and in the hospital, right
‘I’d never seen anyone so sick in all my life,’ McKnight’s father Dave, told PEOPLE.
McKnight was admitted to the ICU, but no doctors asked the teenager if he vaped, only if he was a smoker.
He was airlifted to another hospital and hooked up to an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine.
The machine pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, which allows the heart and lungs to rest.
McKnight was diagnosed with severe pneumonia and adenovirus, which usually causes only a mild illness, but doctors couldn’t figure out what has caused the illnesses.
PEOPLE reported that his parents discovered the answer when they were cleaning his dorm room.
‘I opened up his desk drawer and it was filled with JUUL pods,’ Dave said.
When McKnight’s parents told doctors, they learned that vaping habit had caused his lungs to weaken so much that he wasn’t able to fight off the mild infection.
‘I begged my parents to let me die,’ McKnight told PEOPLE. ‘I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.
His mother shamed the FDA for failing to regulate e-cigarettes after they questioned him at his home. Pictured: McKnight (center) recovering at home with family
McKnight is currently on dialysis and needs to carry on oxygen tank around with him. He will need lung and kidney transplants in the future. Pictured, left and right: McKnight recovering at home
McKnight was discharged in July, having lost 80 pounds and needing to carry an oxygen tank with him.
Eventually, he will need to undergo lung and kidney transplants. In the meantime, he in physical therapy, undergoes dialysis and has regular doctor’s appointments.
His mother, who is a critical care nurse, has left her job to care for her son full time.
McKnight’s family has started a GoFundMe page to help cover the cost of his medical expenses. As of Tuesday afternoon, more than $48,500 has been raised out of a $60,000 goal.
Since March, 2,290 Americans have been sickened from mysterious lung illnesses linked to e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At least 47 people in 25 states and the nation’s capital have died, and health officials expect that number to rise.
Most of the illnesses have resulted from people vaping a combination of THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana, and nicotine.
Three weeks ago, officials announced a breakthrough when they found that a thick, gooey substance called vitamin E acetate in many samples of lung fluid of those who’ve fallen ill.
They now believe that a combination of the vitamin derivative – which causes chemical-like burns to the lungs, and THC is a ‘strong culprit.’