Blake Keith says it’s a miracle he is still alive.
The 35-year-old Tolar resident said years of vaping almost killed him and now he is on a mission to educate the public on the growing health concerns associated with vaping.
“I began vaping about nine years ago,” Keith said. “I tried it when it first came out because I can’t smoke cigarettes because of my asthma. The fact that (vaping) is odorless was the biggest appeal to me.”
In March, Keith, who has three children and another on the way with his wife Kristina, began vaping THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical compound found in cannabis.
Six months later his health began to decline.
“I started having (gastrointestinal) problems in September,” Keith said. “I was throwing up and had diarrhea. I went to the doctor and they thought I had a stomach bug.”
The symptoms worsened and were soon accompanied by a 103-degree fever.
When they couldn’t get the fever to break, Keith went to the emergency room at Lake Granbury Medical Center where his wife works as a nurse.
“I felt like I had the flu, like I got hit by a Mac truck,” he said. “I had body aches and was in a lot of pain.”
He was quickly diagnosed with pneumonia in both lungs and was septic. He was admitted to the hospital and within 12 short hours, Keith’s condition took a downhill spiral.
“My lungs started filling up with fluid and I was coughing up blood,” he said.
As Keith hovered near death, his family was called in to say their goodbyes.
“One minute I was talking about Spirit Week with my daughter and the next I was being told that he probably wouldn’t make it,” Kristina said. “His oxygen level was only half of what it should be and his whole body was struggling to breathe.”
That’s when doctors made the decision to intubate him.
“At that point he was on life support and was in septic shock,” Kristina said.
Keith was diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome, meaning his lungs had completely failed, but doctors still didn’t know his condition was linked to vaping.
When doctors in Granbury were finally able to stabilize him, Keith was transported to Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth where a lung specialist diagnosed him with chemical pneumonia, a condition associated with vaping.
By then, news of similar cases connected to vaping were emerging throughout the country.
A CNN article dated Sept. 12 said that more than 450 cases of lung disease associated with vaping had been reported.
“The federal investigation into the link between vaping and severe lung illnesses is ongoing and has not identified a cause, but all reported cases have indicated the use of e-cigarette products and some patients have reported using e-cigarettes containing cannabinoid products, such as THC,” the article states.
Keith remained on life support at Baylor for a week before he was transferred to a progressive care unit.
With rehabilitation, Keith slowly began to improve enough to go home, but a setback one week later sent him back to the hospital for another week.
“I have no immune system,” he said. “I wear a face mask and gloves to keep me from catching anything.”
Doctors have told Keith they have no idea if his lungs will ever function normally again.
“They just don’t know. This is groundbreaking stuff,” he said. “I am one of the few survivors that have gotten so close to death and lived to tell this story.”
Today, as Keith works to regain his strength, he is focusing on efforts to spread awareness about the dangers of vaping.
“I want to educate the public and stop this epidemic,” he said. “Vaping isn’t worth it. It burns holes in your lungs.”
He also wants doctors to begin asking patients who are experiencing respiratory problems if they vape.
“They always ask a patient if they smoke (cigarettes), but they need to ask about vaping too,” Keith said.
Keith is using social media to spread his message and recently posted this on his Facebook page:
“I promised I'd use my second chance at life to make this world a safer place for our children. May God give me the strength and wisdom while discussing the dangers of vaping.”
He is also reaching out to area schools to share his story with students.
“I want to reach the youth,” he said. “If a school wants me to come talk with their students, I will do it. All they have to do is ask.”