Teen battling deadly, brain-eating amoeba, ‘fighting his little heart out’

A 13-year-old boy has been hospitalized after contracting Naegleria fowleri — a deadly brain-eating amoeba — after swimming in Florida.

Caleb Ziegelbauer caught the life-threatening infection while swimming at Port Charlotte Beach on July 1, according to a GoFundMe page.

Five days later, he complained of a headache that was then followed by a fever and disorientation.

He was rushed to a hospital where he was diagnosed with meningitis and placed in PICU, according to the page. Doctors later confirmed the amoeba was causing his illness.

“A lot of times people don’t get to the hospital quickly enough. We’re hoping that we did,” Caleb’s aunt, Katie Chiet, told NBC2.

“He’s just the kindest soul but he’s so strong. He’s so strong. Like the fighting on the outside, that’s what we’re doing,” another aunt, Elizabeth Ziegelbauer, told the NBC station. “He is fighting his little heart out on the inside.”

Naegleria fowleri presents in children as though they have meningitis.
Getty Images

Chiet said Caleb was showing symptoms for a couple of days before the family realized it could be the water he was swimming in that caused the amoeba.

“He started to receive the CDC protocol to treat the amoeba on July 10,” Chiet wrote in the GoFundMe post.

“He required a brief period of sedation and intubation but has been breathing on his own for almost a full week now!” the update continued. “His MRI scan from 7/20 continues to show damage in his brain left by the amoeba but we remain hopeful that he’ll turn the corner soon and make his way back to us.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Naegleria fowleri is a rare disease that is almost always fatal, with only four out of 154 people in the US having survived the infection from 1962 to 2021.

It causes a rare and almost always fatal infection of the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis.

People can become infected when water containing the amoeba enters the nose and migrates to the brain. Symptoms generally start one to nine days after exposure and many people die within 18 days of showing symptoms, according to the CDC.

Earlier this month, an Iowa freshwater beach was shut down when a Missouri woman who swam there became infected with the amoeba.


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