At a press conference held on Sept. 22 at North Shore University Hospital, Jonathan Doneson, 52, of Roslyn Heights, described his near-death experience after he began using a THC vaping pen.
Prior to Doneson’s hospitalization, he was traveling to China and throughout the United States for business. Shortly after he returned home, he began suffering from night sweats. At first, Doneson wasn’t concerned, but when he woke up one morning with a painful cough, he decided to schedule an appointment with his primary care physician. During his initial appointment, his doctor took x-rays and diagnosed him with bronchitis. He was sent home with antibiotics and told to rest. A few days later, Doneson wasn’t feeling any better, so he scheduled a follow up appointment with his doctor where repeat x-rays were taken. Doneson was diagnosed with double pneumonia and was given additional antibiotics. After more than a week, Doneson’s body still wasn’t responding to the antibiotics and he was rushed to the emergency room at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH).
Due to his extensive traveling, the doctors tested Doneson for a series of illnesses they thought he may have been exposed to while traveling. Mina Makaryus, a pulmonologist who was treating Doneson, began asking routine questions about his everyday activities and discovered his THC vaping habit.
“No one could figure out why the antibiotics weren’t working,” Doneson said. “When Dr. Makaryus asked me about my smoking or drinking habits, I told him that I had started using a THC vaping pen about a month earlier. My wife and I had just started a new business, and I thought it would be good to help control my stress.”
During his three-week stay at the hospital, Doneson was extremely ill and remembers wondering if he was going to die. At one point, his fever was so high he was covered in bags of ice from head to toe. Once the connection between the vaping and the pneumonia was made, Doneson was given a cocktail of antibiotics and steroids, which immediately began working.
“I woke up on Sunday morning and I laid there for 10 minutes and I didn’t know if I was alive, dead, heaven or not,” Doneson recounted. Following his near-death experience, Doneson is now an advocate against the use of vaping products.
“It’s not a healthy product,” Doneson said. “I’m thinking of these THC vaping pens as chronic suicide. These things are not safe. They are killing people. If you are using them, throw them away immediately. If your kids are using them, throw them away. They are dangerous,” he stressed.
Dr. Makaryus urges people with smoking issues to seek help, and to understand that the numbers of people with vaping-related illnesses are still unknown. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has reported more than 450 possible cases of vaping-induced lung disease in 33 states, including six deaths.
Annamaria Iakovou, a pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine physician at NSUH, also discussed the dangers of vaping.
“At Northwell Health, over the past three months, we have encountered more than a dozen cases of lung disease in otherwise young and healthy individuals,” Dr. Iakovou said. “These patients presented similarly with symptoms of cough, fever and shortness of breath, often associated with gastrointestinal symptoms. The majority reported vaping THC-containing oils, but some were also using e-cigarettes containing nicotine, with or without THC.”
Prior to his illness, Doneson was an avid runner and exercised often. Now that he has gotten rid of his vaping habit, he plans to continue his exercise program.
“Run, exercise, get good endorphins into your body,” Doneson said. “The chemicals in these things nearly killed me. What I thought would help me relax was actually hurting me. Think of your family and don’t be selfish. Stop vaping.”
—Additional information provided by Northwell Health