Walter McKnight begged his parents to let him die. “I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”
Walker McKnight is the son of a loving mother and father, Dave and Candy (Barnes) McKnight.
In 2019, the avid athlete had received a coveted cheerleading scholarship and was looking forward to his time at Florida Atlantic University. He didn't think much of it when he came down with what he thought was the cold or flu, but he did feel sick enough to make the 2-hour drive back to Orlando so his parents could take care of him. A mothers' intuition took over and Candy, a nurse herself rushed her son to the emergency room within days.
Things began to progress quickly, and Walker was diagnosed with severe pneumonia and placed under an ICU's care. He was very sick. His condition was deteriorating and he was diagnosed with multiple viruses including adenovirus, Epstein Barr, and strep A. Walker's lung collapsed as a result of the infection.
News from Doctors was bleak, they did not expect Walker to survive. The will to live was strong in this young man and he fought through a fever for 10 hours, after which his other lung collapsed. He was airlifted from Orlando Regional Medical Center to FL Hospital - as the family said their goodbyes to Walker, the hospital called the chaplain because they did not expect him to survive the short trip. However, after 63 days, Walker was still alive, though on ECMO, an invasive life support system. The feeding tube he required caused him to lose the use of his kidneys. It was during his stay at the ICU, that his doctors discovered Walker had been "vaping" using Juul products. Walker's official diagnosis is necrotizing pneumonia and kidney failure. He remains on nightly dialysis treatments and lives with an oxygenator constantly.
In case you aren't aware, these deliver the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes in one e-liquid pod, plus an array of chemicals. Vaping is what his Doctors believe contributed to the inability of this young, healthy man, to recover. Using a vape put huge stress on his lungs and is an underlying factor in the severity of his condition. Walker was released from ICU in late August 2019, but that was not the end of his story. Walker had to return on 3 separate occasions due to breathing trauma. Unfortunately. his left lung never recovered and he is still on dialysis. Walker and his family learned that he would ultimately have to endure a kidney and lung transplant. Walker now required intensive rehab and around-the-clock care by his parents, Dave and Candy.
Candy shares “I wanted to update all about Walker. He is now being considered “pre-transplant”. This means lots and lots of testing, this will take a few months to get the full picture of what needs to be transplanted or fixed ie lungs, kidney and make sure the heart can handle all of this. While he does this I am asking all for your help in casting a large net of support. We will be working with the National Foundation for Transplants pulling together a profile and having Walker’s story listed. Honestly, we have not gotten back on our feet from his initial illness and we need help."
Recently, Walker shared about his journey with People magazine. During the interview, he remembers the first time he took a hit off of a Juul e-cigarette. “It was a really intense, good feeling, I could feel my whole body throbbing and tingling.” Little did he know it would contribute to a desperate battle to stay alive. While Doctors fought to keep his inflamed lungs from collapsing and his organs from shutting down. “I begged my parents to let me die,” says Walker. “I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”
“His case is the worst I’ve seen so far,” recalls critical care specialist Dr. Charles Hunley with Orlando’s Regional Medical Center, which has treated six vaping-related cases in recent months. “Walker was literally dying in front of our eyes.”
The McKnights are in need of help and raising money for his medical bills on GoFundMe. Now at 20 years old, Walker’s life revolves around dialysis sessions, physical therapy, doctors’ appointments, and twice-a-day naps. “This is like something I used to think only happened in the movies,” he says. The average lung transplant costs approximately $929,000. And that’s only the beginning. Walker needs both lungs and a kidney. Even with health insurance, which will cover a portion of the transplant costs, he faces significant expenses related to the surgery. For the rest of his life, he will need follow-up care and daily anti-rejection medications.
There is a new GoFundMe site, in partnership with the National Foundation for Transplants upon which you can make a tax-deductible donation. If you aren't able to do so, please consider sharing his story.
• According to a 2019 survey, more than 5 million U.S. middle and high school students used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. (U.S Food and Drug Administration, 2019)
• Nearly 1 million youth e-cigarette users use the product daily, and 1.6 million use it more than 20 times per month. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2019)