NEPTUNE CITY, N.J. (WCBS 880) — A 21-year-old in New Jersey who picked up vaping says she thought she was going to die.
Kerri Chonsky spent nearly two weeks in a pediatric ICU at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Monmouth County. At first she thought it was a terrible case of the flu or maybe pneumonia.
One thing she was certain about: She was miserable.
“I remember I had a hard time breathing. I was connected to so many different machines and I was on oxygen,” the 21-year-old told reporters.
Doctors say routinely using store-bought and black market e-cigarettes resulted in severe lung damage.
She told reporters she started smoking cigarettes when she was a teenager and switched to a Juul when she was trying to quit.
However, the very thing she thought would save her life caused her even more harm.
“The damage to my lungs was similar to if I had been near a chemical fire,” she says.
Dr. Nader Nakhleh, her pulmonologist, diagnosed her with “Popcorn Lung.”
“It's a condition where if one worked in a popcorn factory and the chemicals were inhaled,” he explains.
Chonsky was released from the hospital on Monday, and though she is still struggling to breathe, she is one of the lucky ones.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports nearly 1,300 people have been affected by a vaping-related illnesses.
As doctors work to figure out the exact cause of the illnesses, lawmakers have been fighting for statewide and federal regulation to prevent the sale of e-cigarettes until more is understood.
In addition, Hackensack Meridian Health on Thursday announced a $1 million campaign to fight youth vaping, which includes providing grants to school districts and community groups to allow kids to bring in vaping devices in a sort of “buy-back” program.