A model claims her extreme muscle pain and weakness was caused by becoming addicted to vaping as a teenager.
Vanessa von Schwarz, 20, started vaping when she saw her friends were all doing them in the school toilets.
It wasn’t long before she was hitting her e-cigarette almost continuously, and would feel nauseous and angry if she left it for too long.
Vanessa said: “For some reason when I started vaping, naivety assured me my whole life was changing.
“I felt like it gave me something I didn’t have before; I was thinner, more confident, and I was sure this new me was all thanks to this little metal device I carried in my pocket.
“I struggled with a lot of anxiety, and I would consistently look at the vape thinking it was the only thing there for me at all times. That was comforting for me and made letting go even harder.”
She started experiencing muscle weakness in her legs and arms, but it wasn’t until she cracked her head open after falling over that doctors told her it could be linked to her vape.
Now she has ditched the habit for good, but still feels the lasting effects of dermatomyositis, and wants to warn others with her cautionary tale.
She said: “My case is an example of how detrimental these ‘minor’ and legal substances can be on one’s body.
“I hope there could be more awareness and action taken against teens vaping, especially in schools.
“Despite the intention, the effects on the body can be severe and my case is not the first or the last of this kind.”
Vanessa remembers vaping for the very first time in the toilets of her high school in April 2017, when she was 15.
She said: “I started to realize every lunch break whenever I would enter the bathroom, there would always be groups of girls standing in a circle smoking a weird-looking thin black stick that would light up.
“All the ‘cool’ girls and guys in my school vaped, it was normal.
“Suddenly, one of my close friends bought one and after a while of her insisting I try it, claiming it did absolutely ‘nothing’ – it did.”
She then got into a routine of vaping anytime she was with her friends, until one Friday evening she went home and started to crave a hit.
She said: “I couldn’t stop thinking about the device and how satisfied I could be if I just had my own.
“Well it’s not cigarettes, so I can’t smell like anything, my parents won’t ever know because it’s so small and secretive, and I’ll just throw it away before I get addicted.”
Teenage Vanessa went on to by her own, and it got to the point where she needed her device to be around her at all times or she would feel nauseous and cranky.
The actress said: “I enjoyed the physical head rush vaping would give me.
“Every time I took a hit of my vape, I felt like I was inhaling a big deep breath, one that actually satisfied my body and relaxed me.
“I started to truly believe that vaping had changed my life for the better.”
The teen felt comfort in having the device readily available, and it was also socially acceptable, so soon found that she was vaping almost continuously.
“I definitely think the ‘child friendly’ flavors made the initial use of the vape so enticing,” she said.
“It tasted like candy and was truly delicious.
“After a while though, the fruity flavors became really nauseating and mint became the default since the flavor seemed to suppress hunger the most.
“My friends and I would never eat breakfast or lunch. We mostly just vaped away our hunger and cravings.”
But in May 2017 she started feeling the side effects.
Vanessa said: “I got out of bed that morning and instantly took a hit. After that, I woke up on the floor and I hadn’t remembered what’d happened.
“I’d clearly fainted, and I was fine, but it was so odd because that had never happened to me in my life.”
From then on, whenever she used her vape, she would feel weak in the knees, her fingers and toes would go numb and her heartbeat sped up.
In 2018 she developed migraines and consistent nausea after just a few hours without a hit.
Her weakness got worse, but she managed to just shrug it off until she took up a stylist job and had to be on her feet for up to nine hours a day.
The filmmaking student said: “On top of the consistent migraines and nausea, I suddenly was unable to bend my legs fully without being in an immense amount of pain.
“I would come home from work in absolute agony, crying because of how badly my legs ached.
“My upper body became weaker and weaker, and as my legs grew weak and sore, so did my arms and fingers.
“It began to hurt just putting my hair in a ponytail, or even holding a water bottle was too heavy for my hands.
“I couldn’t lift my neck up when I was laying down, and when I’d fall because my legs would give out due to weakness, Ii couldn’t get up from the ground.”
On November 5 2019, while getting ready for work, Vanessa’s heart started to beat very quickly and she felt lightheaded.
After managing to get out the door to go, she realized she forgot something but tripped while running back up the porch steps and hit her head.
She was rushed to the hospital by mum Juana, 50, and doctors quizzed her about her recent weakness and falls.
Medics originally concluded that she must have come into contact with a toxic substance and that she needed hydrating to remove it from her body, but she had failed to mention about her vaping habit.
It wasn’t until they noticed her creatine kinase levels in her blood were increasing, despite being on constant IV hydration, that she admitted she’d been continuing to vape in hospital in secret.
She said: “I had to have a serious conversation with myself about whether or not I was ready to let this addiction go, and I thought bringing up vaping to the doctors would get rid of any paranoia I had about my vape.
“Once they knew how excessive the use was they immediately advised me to stop, stating there was not enough research to know how vaping can affect the body.”
In mid-December she was discharged from hospital, but didn’t stop vaping until a year later, convinced by some studies she found online that said it had nothing to do with her condition.
“That was enough for me to continue my use, despite the painful symptoms I continued to feel,” said Vanessa.
“In 2020, I was vaping just as heavily as I had been before, but suddenly, the symptoms started to become extremely overbearing to the point where I would have constant panic attacks.
“I would be in public hitting my vape, and all of a sudden my heart would start pounding in my chest, I would feel extremely lightheaded, I started trembling as my muscles tightened, and I felt nauseous all at once.
“My bones felt cold and shaky, I felt like I was going to drop dead on the floor.”
She knew she had to make a change, and she went to her doctor for help, who prescribed her with nicotine patches to ease the cravings.
After about a month away from her vape her symptoms eased up, and found she had more energy and her muscles were not aching so much.
She said: “I don’t need to constantly worry about losing my vape or what I’ll do if I can’t vape for more than an hour.
“I don’t run to the bathroom every 30 minutes to hit my vape either, I no longer feel as controlled by something that controlled me for so long. “
To this day, Vanessa still suffers with dermatomyositis which causes extreme muscle pain and weakness, and believes that the condition was caused by her early addiction to vaping.
She hopes that by sharing her experience she can warn other young people about the potential dangers of what is often thought to be a safer alternative to smoking.
Vanessa said: “Anyone who may be struggling with any sort of addiction, please know there is help.
“It’s a common misconception to believe nicotine is a small, minor addiction, and while that can be true for a lot of people, there are still those remaining that depend on the substance for their happiness, when it is incredibly short lived.
“I hope you will not let any addiction take over your body’s health, because the effects are irreversible.”
Vanessa’s father, Dr Ernst von Schwarz, 60, is a clinician researcher and has written a report on his daughter’s case.
He believes her serious side effects are “most likely” attributed to her vaping.
He said: “Initially [vaping] was introduced as a way to quit smoking, but now the role has changed immensely because it has become somewhat fashionable and does attract a lot of young people.
“There is very little published on the potential induction of vaping and its toxic effects on the connective tissue.
“Dermatomyositis is basically an inflammation of the skin and the muscle tissues, and usually we see that in elderly people, people with chronic systemic conditions, end-stage cancer patients or in patients with a family history.
“Sometimes it’s as a result of side effects of certain drugs however Vanessa wasn’t on any medications, and she didn’t have any family history which could lead to this kind of connective tissue disease.
“It is with a high probability that vaping in her particular case caused systemic dermatomyositis and inflammatory response.
“It does demonstrate how dangerous, especially for healthy young people, something like vaping can be.”