SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Fifty-two deaths this year have been connected to e-cigarette or vaping products and another 2,400 either injured or hospitalized.
One of those victims, a 21-year-old hospitalized at St. Joseph’s/Candler, dreamed of playing college baseball until vaping took over his life and nearly killed him.
Landon Wogalter said he first took a hit from a Juul in high school in Boca Raton, Florida, but quickly realized the buzz he was getting may not be worth the risk.
“I noticed right away when I stopped Juuling my lungs were like night and day,” he explained. “And I knew the Juul was not good news.”
But Wogalter said the stress of life and anxiety led him to marijuana — first joints, then to vaping devices and THC cartridges.
“It was so much like, ‘Everyone f—ing smokes weed,’ that I was kind of like ‘Why can’t I?’ Because I always felt controlled,” he explained.
“I know a lot of people who don’t smoke cartridges but then there are people who need that high,” Wogalter said, adding, “At least in my head, I did.”
Through moves to Tennessee, then to Pooler, Wogalter admits he was vaping every day at home and while working.
“It was just for me to get through. It helped,” he said.
Despite the warning signs — shortness of breath, limited energy — Wogalter kept vaping.
By September, he didn’t feel right.
“I started coughing up stuff,” he said.
“It was just the latest cartridges that I got that, whatever was in them, set it off and messed me up pretty bad,” Wogalter added.
After a trip to Urgent Care, it was believed he had pneumonia. But doctors at St. Joseph’s/Candler had more dire news.
“They gave me oxygen, but my oxygen levels weren’t going up,” Wogalter said, adding, “My lungs were shutting down.”
Doctors put him on an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine, which removes blood and pumps it through an artificial lung to infuse oxygen and remove carbon dioxide.
“Safe oxygen levels are 93 or above. I was at 86,” he said. “My blood oxygen level was like 56 and critical is like 55.”
“Older people are on ECMO because it’s a last resort. Only 30-40% make it,” Wogalter added.
As the youngest-ever patient in Savannah on the machine, Wogalter was vented for five days. In all, he spent more than a month at St. Joseph’s/Candler.
“It’s difficult to talk about it because of how severe it was,” he told News 3. “If I wasn’t 21, my lungs were the only things that were messed up. I would be dead.”
Wogalter said he attributes his condition directly to vaping.
“One hundred percent. My diagnosis is because of vaping,” he said.
Wogalter was able to get off of the ECMO machine and into physical therapy to help him learn to walk again.
“I’m insanely lucky and everyday ‘Im realizing how lucky I am,” he told News 3, adding, “It sucks that it took this for it to finally get in my head.”
He’s left with a scar to remind him he can never smoke again — and shouldn’t even be around people who smoke.
“I hear people saying it’s a conspiracy,” Wogalter said.
“I hear people saying that everything with vaping is bull—t, everything with vaping isn’t real; it’s better than smoking cigarettes. It’s really not,” he added.
Wogalter is now back in Florida with his mom, continuing his recovery.
“Unless you want the consequences to happen to you, which it will happen to you…don’t start,” he said. “Don’t do it.”
Wogalter still doesn’t know if he will ever have full lung capacity but hopes to return to regular life soon — and work towards his dream of playing college baseball.