“I was hesitant to believe the vapes could be the cause of this,” he said.
The oxygen level in his blood was way below normal. He was given oxygen. Doctors suspected a lung infection, though they were puzzled because he was young and healthy and had not traveled overseas recently.
His mother, who works nights, arrived at the hospital a few hours later. She insisted that he tell the doctors about his vaping.
His condition deteriorated. By afternoon, he was on a ventilator. He still did not improve. By the next morning, his blood oxygen had sunk to levels low enough to cause organ failure, or even stop his heart.
“A 22-year-old gentleman, and he was, essentially, dying in front of me,” said Dr. Syed H. Iqbal, a specialist in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills Hospital.
It fell to Dr. Iqbal to tell Mr. Rodriguez’s family how dangerously ill he was.
“It was terrible,” Mr. Rodriguez’s mother, Martha, said. “I will never forget the doctor’s face. I prayed, ‘Please, God, don’t let him go.’” She told the doctors to do anything needed to save her son.
Dr. Iqbal recommended a desperate measure called ECMO, a machine that would pump oxygen directly into Mr. Rodriguez’s blood and take carbon dioxide out — breathing for him while, if he was lucky, his lungs recovered. The hospital in Forest Hills did not have it, but the main campus of Long Island Jewish Medical Center did, and sent out an emergency team with the machine in an ambulance. As soon as Mr. Rodriguez was connected to it, his blood oxygen shot up to normal levels, Dr. Iqbal said.
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