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'I Was Terrified': Piper Johnson, UNC Student With Lung Illness Talks About Vaping Habit

GREELEY, Colo. (CBS4) – The teenager who survived Colorado's first case of a rare vaping-related illness says she will never pick up a vape pen again. Piper Johnson, 18, spoke exclusively with CBS4 just weeks after her vaping habit almost killed her.

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Piper Johnson (credit: CBS)

"I've been given a second chance at life, so I am going to take care of myself now," Johnson told CBS4's Dillon Thomas.

Johnson and her parents were driving from the Chicago area to Greeley so she could move in to the dormitories at the University of Northern Colorado. Throughout the drive, she said she fell ill and couldn't stop coughing.

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University of Northern Colorado (credit: CBS)

"It hurt to take a really deep breath. I knew something was wrong," Johnson said.

Her parents took her to an urgent care, and the medical staff later encouraged her to go to the hospital. What was originally thought to be pneumonia was actually a new illness called "sudden and severe lung illness due to vaping." Johnson is Colorado's first patient with the illness that is so new it doesn't have an official name.

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Piper Johnson in the hospital (credit: Piper Johnson)

"That is pretty much when it all hit the fan," Johnson said. "I was terrified."

Johnson was admitted to the ICU and placed on oxygen. She was forced to admit to her parents that she was vaping behind their backs, and against their wishes.

"They were super against it (during high school,)" Johnson said. "It was, no question, not allowed in our house. And, I continued to disobey them."

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Piper Johnson using a vape pen (credit: Piper Johnson)

Johnson said she was vaping through an entire pack of vape-pod liquids each week. She said that was an average amount to vape among her peers.

(credit: CBS)

She knew the vape pen would be easy to hide from her parents. She said it looked like a common USB computer drive, one which could be easily stashed away in her pencil box or makeup bag.

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Piper Johnson (credit: CBS)

Johnson said she was vaping daily for more than two years. She said she knew cigarettes were bad for consumption. However, she was led to believe vaping was healthier and more acceptable among her peers.

"(Vaping) was totally marketed to kids," Johnson said. "Especially with the flavors and the cartoon designs on some of the pens."

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(credit: Piper Johnson)

Lying in the ICU, Johnson said she was forced to reflect on her decisions that lead her there. She said that included the times her parents warned her about vaping, which she ignored.

"Oh my God. All this stuff I've been doing these past two years that I thought were harmless, have silently been killing me," Johnson said. "(I once was) laughing at (my parents) being like, 'Oh that couldn't be me.' And then it was."

Johnson said she used popular products like the Juul Vape Pen. She said she also vaped with Posh Disposables, Mr. Gog, Mr. Vapor and Crushed Pen Disposables.

Johnson said industry workers have cyberbullied her after her story went public. Her family is represented by a law firm in the Chicago area, yet has not told CBS4 if they plan on taking legal action.

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Piper Johnson (credit: CBS)

"I try to educate people, because I don't want the same thing to happen to them," Johnson said. "It's just not worth it. And, it is not worth the risk, and worth seeing your parents cry as you are in a hospital bed. It is killing people."

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