Parent warning after teen left fighting for his life after contracting brain-eating amoeba on family beach vacation


A TEENAGER has been left fighting for life after contracting a brain-eating amoeba while on a beach vacation.

Caleb Ziegelbauer, 13, began to experience headaches and hallucinations a week after a family trip to Port Charlotte Beach Florida on July 1.

Doctors think Caleb contracted the bacteria, which leaves patients with a 25 percent survival chance, through his nose while at the beach, NBC 2 reported.

According to a GoFundMe organized by the family, Caleb was swimming in brackish water in Port Charlotte before he became ill.

Five days later, he started to develop a headache and had a fever by the next day.

Caleb soon began to hallucinate and was disoriented so his parents drove him to Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida in Ft. Myers where he was initially diagnosed with meningitis and sent to PICU.

The bacteria, known as Naegleria fowleri, can initially present as meningitis and is caught by drinking contaminated water, according to the CDC.

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

“Unfortunately the Naegleria fowleri presents as if a child has meningitis,” she added.

“That’s why it took a few days to put two and two together because of Caleb’s exposure to water.”

“He’s just the kindest soul but he’s so strong,” his other aunt Elizabeth Ziegelbauer, told the station.  

“He’s so strong. Like the fighting on the outside, that’s what we’re doing,” 

“He is fighting his little heart out on the inside.”

Cheit told the station swelling in Caleb’s brain has grown, but he is breathing on his own.

“It’s very lonely and isolating to walk this path because we don’t know where we are on any kind of timeline.” 

“Are we in the clear? Are we on the path to healing? Are we waiting for something else to happen?” Chiet said.

She explained the inflammation in Caleb’s brain has grown significantly since he first got to the hospital.

He previously reached a fever of 105 degrees, according to a Facebook post.

Caleb has been hospitalized for over two weeks.

According to GoFundMe, an MRI conducted on July 20 showed brain damage.

The teen was off intubation for about a week, but as of July 24, there were plans to reintubate him, according to the GoFundMe.

He also experienced a seizure and needed a blood transfusion and started to receive the CDC protocol to treat the amoeba on July 10, the GoFundMe said.

Symptoms of the bacteria generally start around a median of 5 days after exposure to the Naegleria-containing water, the CDC said.

Most people die five days after the onset of symptoms and are diagnosed after death due to the rapid progression of the disease.

Only four people in the U.S. out of 154 have survived this amoeba infection from 1962 to 2021.

Treatments include the drug miltefosine and therapeutic hypothermia.

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