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New Lenox family says daughter almost died from a vaping-related illness

Ruby and Tim Johnson hope to create greater awareness about what they say are the dangers of electronic cigarettes.

As Ruby Johnson began the 1,000-mile drive last month to deliver her daughter to college in Colorado, the teenager complained of having a sore chest.

Johnson thought it was probably something minor, something that a quick stop at a “minute clinic” would fix.

Two days later, 18-year-old Piper Johnson was in intensive care in a Colorado hospital fighting for her life — the victim, her mother said Thursday, of a vaping-related lung illness.

“When you watch your 18-year-old child, who was healthy a week ago, in a hospital bed in intense pain and needing more and more oxygen, ... it’s terrifying,” Johnson told reporters at her lawyer’s office downtown.

The teenager’s illness comes after a person in Illinois died last month after contracting a serious lung disease, believed to be the first death in the nation linked to vaping.

As of last week, 215 possible cases of severe lung disease associated with the use of e-cigarettes had been reported in 25 states, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. The battery-powered vaping devices can be used to inhale a flavored nicotine solution or a solution infused with marijuana oil.

The American Vaping Association, an advocacy group, has in recent days blamed “tainted, black market THC products.”

Johnson, with her husband and lawyer at her side, said she has no current intention to file suit, but instead wants to draw attention to the vaping epidemic.

“So many teenagers are doing this. It’s everywhere,” said Johnson, who lives in New Lenox, and is the mother of seven children. “My eighth-grader walks into the bathroom (at school) and there is a cloud of vapor.”

When she got sick, Piper Johnson admitted to her mother that she’d previously been vaping, but said she hadn’t used the device for a week, her mother said Thursday.

The Johnsons and their attorney, Michael Gallagher, say it’s time to expose the e-cigarette industry for deliberately targeting kids.

“Make no mistake, e-cigarettes are a grossly unregulated industry that is targeting our children in an effort to make a new generation of nicotine addicts,” Gallagher said.

Piper Johnson is doing better and in college, but neither she nor her parents know her long-term prognosis.

“She’s scared, but right now she’s trying to be a college student,” her mother said.