David Bauer started smoking cigarettes when he was 21 years old.
The 34-year-old, who goes by Davey, smoked about a pack of cigarettes a day while maintaining an otherwise healthy, active lifestyle of snowboarding, skateboarding, gaming, golfing and working in landscaping in his home city of De Soto, Missouri, just outside St. Louis.
He switched to vaping in 2014 because “vaping felt better and I thought it was the healthier alternative, but in all honesty, I found it more addicting than cigarettes,” he told doctors at Northwestern Medicine in a Nov. 8 news release.
Then, in April of this year, Bauer caught the flu.
For someone with healthy lungs, an influenza A infection is usually not life-threatening.
But for someone who had been smoking, and then vaping, for 13 years, it quickly became serious, the doctors said.
Bauer had shortness of breath, which soon turned into a massive lung infection, one that was resistant to antibiotics, according to the release.
He was admitted to a hospital in St. Louis and placed on an ECMO machine, a device that acts as his heart and lungs.
“Davey’s lungs were so heavily infected that they started to liquify. If you looked at his X-ray, there was nothing left — the lungs were completely filled with puss,” pulmonologist and medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute Lung Transplant Program, Rade Tomic, said in the news release.
Bauer’s medical team in St. Louis reached out to Northwestern, in Chicago, and the doctors quickly determined Bauer wouldn’t survive long enough for a lung transplant with the infected lungs still inside his body.
“This was uncharted territory for us, but our team knew if we couldn’t help Davey, no one else could,” Tomic said.
His doctors had to get creative.
On May 26, surgeons created what they called an “artificial lung,” a piece of equipment that could be placed inside Bauer’s body that moves blood to the heart and keeps oxygen pumping through his brain and organs.
Then surgeons removed his infected lungs but were faced with finding a way to keep Bauer’s heart from collapsing into the open space his lungs left behind, according to the release. Enter: breast implants.
“One of our plastic surgeons was very gracious to give us a rapid-fire course on the different types, shapes and sizes of breast implants, so we picked out a couple options and some of them were easier than others to mold inside Davey’s chest, with the DD option being the best fit,” Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and director of the Canning Thoracic Institute at Northwestern, said in the news release.
As soon as the infected lungs were removed and Bauer’s heart was stable, his body could fight off the infection, doctors said.
Within a day, Bauer was ready to be placed on the lung transplant list — and he found a match.
On May 28, the breast implants and artificial lung were removed and two new, if slightly used, lungs were placed back into his chest.
Bauer remained in intensive care for a few months before he was discharged to rehabilitation therapy in September, according to the release.
With improving health, Bauer is also in high spirits as he stays in Chicago so his doctors can monitor his recovery.
“I plan to get a T-shirt made that says ‘DD Davey’ on it and change all my gaming profiles,” he said in the release. “While we don’t have definitive ways of proving my years of vaping caused my medical condition, doctors do know for a fact that vaping causes lung injury. If I could go back in time, I never would have picked up a cigarette or vape pen, and I hope my story can help encourage others to quit, because I wouldn’t wish this difficult journey on anyone.”
If you or a loved one shows signs of substance use disorder, you can seek help by calling the national hotline at 1-800-662-4357 or find treatment using SAMHSA's online locator.