ERLANGER, Ky. — Lily Dixon, a Northern Kentucky teen hospitalized after a vaping-related lung injury, isn't ready to share her story in public. On Thursday night, speaking to a crowd at the Ignite Institute, her mother, Julie Kirkpatrick, did instead.
"For as long as I can remember, I just wanted to fit in and feel normal," Kirkpatrick said, quoting her daughter. "I had heard of Juul, but I had never tried it. It took one buzz to get me hooked."
Kirkpatrick said she is spreading the word to families like theirs in hopes of preventing others from suffering serious injuries or even death after using e-cigarette products.
"Lily started with what we thought was a stomach flu, and we took her to urgent treatment, and she got sicker and sicker," Kirkpatrick said.
After telling her parents she kicked her Juul habit in early 2019, Lily secretly picked it back up. The resulting illness kept her in Cincinnati Children's Hospital for days.
"She developed a lung injury from it," Fitzpatrick said. "She was admitted to the hospital, and we knew that we had to do something."
Kirkpatrick initially believed her daughter's Juul contained only water vapor and thought it was harmless. The Northern Kentucky Health Department wants parents to be cautious of all e-cigarettes — those purchased legally and on the black market.
"We are really targeting parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, anybody that works with youth because we want adults to understand the truth about e-cigarettes," Dr. Lynne Sadler, district director of health for the Northern Kentucky Health Department, said.
The health department reached out to Kirkpatrick after she posted about her daughter's experience on social media.
"What is the long-term consequences of this for the future?" Kirkpatrick said. "It's a scary thought."
Lily's lungs have recovered, but she can never smoke again.
"She can never, ever put anything into her lungs ever again, and we're going to do everything we can to help her," Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick hopes her family's story helps other parents.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have done extensive research on the outbreak on injuries caused by vaping and e-cigarette use. As of Jan. 14, a total of 2,668 hospitalized cases or deaths have been reported to the CDC from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The U.S. Surgeon General has called e-cigarette usage by teens "an epidemic."