Florida Boy Contracts Deadly Brain-Eating Amoeba After Playing I - WJBF-TV ABC 6 Augusta-Aiken

Florida Boy Contracts Deadly Brain-Eating Amoeba After Playing In Ditch

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Miami, FL -

"We said, 'Oh, he just has a virus. He just has one of those 24-hour viruses,'" says Zachary Reyna's brother, Brandon Villarreal.

Zachary Reyna spent August 3rd knee-boarding in a ditch by his house -- nothing unusual.

"He slept all day, all night, and that's when my mom was like, 'okay, something's not right,'" Brandon says.

Sleeping this much was unusual for this active and healthy seventh-grader.

"It just happened very quickly," Brandon says.

Brandon says, one second Zachary was playing, the next he was undergoing brain surgery, diagnosed with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM.

"It's just tough to see him like this," Brandon says. "I wish I could just touch him and it would transfer over or something. It don't work like that," he adds.

It's caused by an amoeba found in still, warm water. It traveled up Zachary's nose and into his brain.

"He's fighting, and he's strong. He's really, really strong," Brandon says.

Zachary is in ICU at Miami Children's Hospital, and his family keeping vigil at his bedside.

"My mom tells him, 'hey, you got to take the trash out, Zac,' and she'd tell him three or four times. He'd say, 'Mom, I got this, I'll do it.' We can see him now, as we're praying for him, him just saying, 'Hey. I got this,'" Brandon says.

Only three people have ever survived this deadly infection.

"He can be number four. That's what we're hoping for: for him to be number four," Brandon says.

The family is staying positive, telling their young baseball player to not give up in this close game.

"I told him it's the ninth inning, ninth inning two outs, runner on third, he's up to bat. It's his turn to hit it out. Bring the runs home so we can go home. It's time to win. He's going to be okay," Brandon says.

The amoeba infects people when they take in contaminated water through the nose, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They do not get it by drinking contaminated water.

To reduce the risk of contracting the deadly amoeba, health officials said there are a few things swimmers can do:

  • Try to keep water from going up their noses
  • Avoid warm freshwater when the water temperature is high and the water level is low
  • Avoid stirring up sediment in shallow water
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