A day after the emergency surgery, the Bauer family saw the extent of the damage to Emily's brain.
"We met with Neurology team who showed us Emily's brain images," wrote her mother, Tonya Bauer, in a daily journal on Facebook. "They told us that all white areas on images were dead. It looked to us at least 70 percent of the images were white."
Without the breathing tube, Emily's throat would not be able to stay open, as that part of the brain was dead, her family said.
Doctors painted a bleak picture of Emily's future. She would likely not recognize her family. She would be completely unaware of her surroundings. She would never be able to eat on her own and never regain function of her arms and legs, her family said.
"We were asked to think of what Emily would want. What quality of life would Emily want?" Tonya wrote.
The family decided they would take Emily off life support, just four days before her 17th birthday.
Hurdles to enforcement
One in every nine high school seniors admits to having used fake weed in 2011, according to a national survey by the University of Michigan. Synthetic marijuana is the second-most popular illicit drug they use, behind marijuana.
In July 2012, President Barack Obama signed legislation banning five common chemicals used to make synthetic marijuana and bath salts. And that same month, the DEA seized almost 5 million packets of fake weed in its first national sweep of the drug.
States handle the penalties for drug offenses in lots of different ways and possession has varying definitions, according to NCSL's Lawrence.
Some states, such as Texas, classify synthetic marijuana as Schedule I drugs, which are unsafe, have no medical use and a high potential for abuse.
"They're in line with other states. It's hard to say if there's a middle, but they're similar to other states," Lawrence said.
Each day is a fight
Three days after pulling life support, the Bauer family marked a day they didn't think they would: Emily's 17th birthday.
"Even though she couldn't move, is blind, and could hardly be aware of what was going on around her, she laughed with us as we made jokes and listened to her soft whisper replies," wrote Harrison.
"It is my little sister shining through, in every way she can manage, with every ounce of strength."
Each day since has been a fight -- a fight to move a finger, a fight to whisper something to her family, a fight for life, according to her big sister.
"She is in so much pain and confusion, but the family is thankful every single day to still have her alive," she said.
Her stepfather, who has been in Emily's life since he saw her in the delivery room, hopes he can spare other people his family's pain.
"I don't wish this upon anybody at all. When she cries for help and not being able to help her, to have her just lay there. ... She gets depressed because she can't move," he said.
"She wants daddy to fix it. It's very hard for me. If we could save one more parent this emotional roller coaster, then what we do and what we sacrifice will all be worth it."
Emily knows she's in the hospital and recognizes her family's voices, but Bryant says she's often confused. They're taking things slow, trying to get an idea of her capabilities. It's too early to tell the effects of the brain damage, but she's moving her arms and legs a little bit these days.
More than one month after the life-changing night, Emily was transferred to TIRR Memorial Hermann rehab hospital on Jan. 14. The family says they haven't heard Emily's prognosis yet, but they remain hopeful as the teenager tackles physical, occupational and speech therapy, as well as living a new life.
Two weeks ago, Emily started eating solid food again. She even asked her sister for Ramen Noodles as they talked on the phone. "Even though they're such small steps for her, they're such giant steps of positivity," Harrison said.
Saving other kids from this
Bryant and his family are starting a nonprofit organization called Synthetic Awareness For Emily. Their goal with SAFE is to educate families, as well as teachers and doctors, about the dangers and warning signs of synthetic marijuana use. Bryant said he has filed the paper work and is waiting to hear from the federal government on reviewing their nonprofit application.
"That's why we want to let kids and parents know about the warnings signs: migraines and withdrawal," he said. "We all know the warning signs of alcohol and cocaine, but with this synthetic weed stuff, it's so new that nobody knows about this stuff. We want to let other parents know about this so they don't have to go what we've been going through."