September 15, 2019

Local Teen ‘Lucky to Be Alive’ After Vaping Incident

18-year-old Simah Herman. Photo courtesy of Herman.

Eighteen-year-old Simah Herman said she is lucky to be alive after almost 10 days in the hospital, including being placed in a medically induced coma, after complications from vaping. 

Herman was rushed to the hospital Aug. 15 feeling dizzy and nauseated, with a severe loss of appetite. Doctors initially thought she was suffering from pneumonia. But over the next 48 hours, her condition deteriorated and she was placed in a drug-induced coma for four days because she could no longer breathe on her own.

Luckily, Herman survived her ordeal but to date, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed five deaths related to vaping in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Oregon. 

As of Sept. 6, Herman was one of 450 possible cases in the United States to suffer from severe pulmonary disease related to e-cigarettes and vaping.

The CDC is advising consumers to consider not using e-cigarette products or vape pens — battery-operated devices that heat a liquid and deliver an aerosolized product to the user.

Raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, Herman was exposed to variations of Juuls, vape pens and e-cigarettes by friends at her Jewish day school in Beverly Hills. At 16, she tried vaping for the first time, not because of peer pressure, but because it looked cool, she said. 

“I just did it,” she told the Journal. “I didn’t really think anything of it. I noticed a bunch of different people had them so I would just take a hit off my friends but then I felt bad because I was using theirs all the time so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll just get my own.’ That ended up in one big spiral because then I was addicted.”

According to a Sept. 6 New England Journal of Medicine report, the aerosolized substances that users inhale in battery-powered e-cigarette devices are not harmless, as the marketing suggests.  

“E-cigarette aerosol generally contains fewer toxic chemicals than conventional cigarette smoke,” the report states. “However, e-cigarette aerosol … can expose users to substances known to have adverse health effects, including ultra-fine particles, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and other harmful ingredients.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also issued a statement Sept. 6 stating:

“Because consumers cannot be sure whether any THC vaping products may contain Vitamin E acetate, consumers are urged to avoid buying vaping products on the street, and to refrain from using THC oil or modifying/adding any substances to products purchased in stores. Additionally, no youth should be using any vaping product, regardless of the substance.”

Herman said she was spending roughly $20-$30 each time she went to purchase Juul pods, pens and other accessories. The smoke house she illegally went to in North Hollywood didn’t card her because she told them she was 22. 

 “This is a pen that looks like a mascara wand. They’re pink. They’re purple. They’re pretty and cute. They smell like a candle and I want parents to know that.” 

— Stacy Herman 

Over the two years she was vaping, she began to feel nauseated, out of breath and had blurred vision. She also lost her appetite and would go several days without eating. A dancer for almost 12 years, she stopped because her symptoms worsened. She never thought it had something to do with vaping because nobody around her was getting sick from e-cigarettes.

Her mother, Stacy Herman, was unaware her daughter was vaping. Stacy told the Journal she initially thought her daughter was anorexic. Stacy took her to her pediatrician on several occasions to no avail. It wasn’t until Simah was unconscious that Stacy found the stash of vaping products in her daughter’s bedroom.

“I found her vape pens and her stash and I brought it back to the hospital and I said ‘You better save her ’cause I’m gonna kill her,’ ” Stacy said. “I didn’t know what it was. It isn’t recognizable. This isn’t the stuff from our childhood. As an adult, as a mother, I never smoked pot, I never smoked cigarettes but it doesn’t look like that anymore. This is a pen that looks like a mascara wand. They’re pink. They’re purple. They’re pretty and cute. They smell like a candle and I want parents to know that.” 

Stacy, who lost her own mother (also named Simah) to lung cancer, never worried her daughter was smoking because she never had the symptoms of a cigarette user — bad breath, smelly clothes, yellow teeth. “She smoked in her room, in our house, under our roof and we had no idea,” Stacy said.

For Herman, her hospitalization set her on the path to recovery and on a crusade to warn others about the dangers of vaping.   

“When I woke up, basically the only way I could communicate was with writing so I took a pen and paper and I wrote [about vaping],” she said. “I didn’t know my mom knew that I was vaping … and we just looked at each other and she said, ‘You know?’ and I said, ‘You know?’ and we both just started crying. I couldn’t let this happen to any of my friends who were smoking.”

It’s been almost three weeks since Herman was discharged from the hospital and she has quit vaping. She said she went through withdrawal in the hospital so she no longer craves nicotine. In November, she hopes to be well enough to start cosmetology school — a dream she’s had for a long time. Together with her mother and her cousins, she has also started an anti-vaping campaign. Her Instagram post on the dangers of vaping, with a picture of her in the hospital has gone viral and she hopes she can persuade more people to stop.

“I was UCLA [hospital’s] first vape-related illness,” Herman said. “They had no idea because there is no research out there. Is a little head rush from a tiny flash drive worth your life? Worth never seeing anyone you love again? Worth never doing anything you love again? Is it really worth everything to waste everything on a stupid little vape pen?

“It’s not worth it.”