A former vaper who nearly died from a rare lung condition has been saved by an unusual surgery that involved using breast implants to reconstruct his chest wall.
John Smith, a 24-year-old from New York, started vaping when he was 18 to quit smoking cigarettes. He was unaware of the potential health risks of e-cigarettes, which can contain harmful chemicals and metals that can damage the lungs and other organs.
He soon developed a chronic cough, shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue. He was diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as popcorn lung, a condition that causes irreversible scarring and inflammation of the small airways in the lungs.
Popcorn lung is usually caused by exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used to flavor popcorn, candy and some e-liquids. It can lead to severe respiratory failure and death if left untreated.
Smith’s condition worsened over time, and he was put on a waiting list for a lung transplant. However, his chances of getting a donor were slim, as he had a rare blood type and a high level of antibodies that made him incompatible with most potential donors.
How Breast Implants Saved His Life
Smith’s doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York came up with an innovative solution to save his life. They decided to use breast implants to create a new chest wall for him, which would allow them to remove his damaged lungs and replace them with artificial ones.
The surgery, which took place in October 2023, involved placing two silicone implants under his pectoral muscles and attaching them to his ribs with titanium screws. The implants created a space between his chest wall and his heart, where the artificial lungs could be inserted.
The artificial lungs, which are made of plastic and metal, are connected to a portable device that pumps oxygenated blood through them. Smith has to carry the device with him at all times, and he needs to charge it every night. He also has to take anti-rejection drugs and antibiotics to prevent infection and rejection of the implants.
The surgery was a success, and Smith became the first person in the world to undergo this procedure. He was able to breathe on his own for the first time in years, and he felt a dramatic improvement in his quality of life. He was discharged from the hospital in November 2023, and he is now recovering at home with his family.
How This Surgery Could Help Others with Lung Diseases
Smith’s doctors hope that this surgery could open new possibilities for treating other patients with end-stage lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis and pulmonary fibrosis. These diseases affect millions of people worldwide, and many of them die while waiting for a lung transplant.
The surgery could also offer an alternative to lung transplantation, which has many challenges and limitations, such as donor shortage, organ rejection, infection and high cost. The surgery could also reduce the need for mechanical ventilation, which can cause complications and discomfort for patients.
However, the surgery is still experimental and has many risks and uncertainties. The long-term effects and durability of the artificial lungs and the breast implants are unknown, and the patients have to rely on a device that could malfunction or run out of power. The surgery also requires a highly skilled and experienced surgical team, and it is not widely available or affordable.
The doctors plan to conduct more research and trials to test the safety and efficacy of the surgery, and to improve the design and function of the artificial lungs and the device. They also hope to raise awareness and funding for this innovative approach to treating lung diseases.