12-year-old boy infected by ‘brain-eating’ amoeba shows no brain activity, but remains on ventilator

Zachary Reyna.
Zachary Reyna.
Pray4Number4 Facebook page

Family members of a 12-year-old boy who was infected by a rare and deadly amoeba, and has been declared brain dead, are preparing to remove him from life support.

Zachary Reyna has been kept on a ventilator so his organs can be donated — a decision made following Saturday’s determination by doctors at Miami Children’s Hospital that although the brain-eating amoeba had been vanquished, it had severely damaged the boy’s brain, his parents said in a Facebook page, Pray4Number4, they created to give updates on their son’s medical fight.

The boy’s uncle, Homer Villarreal, told The Associated Press doctors told family members the boy's brain was not showing any activity.

"The doctors did all they could do. It's up to the good man upstairs," he said, adding that the family was praying. "I just wish a miracle would happen.

Media outlets reported Zachary’s death after the family posted on the Facebook page: “Even though Zac has passed, he will still be saving many lives,” referring to the donation of his organs.

On Sunday, family members and friends who wanted to say goodbye visited Miami Children's Hospital until the end of visitation hours at 9 p.m.

At 4 p.m. Sunday, the boy’s family posted a new Facebook entry that appeared to indicate they haven’t given up hope:

“We respect the doctors protocol but we continue with our faith and believe God will step in on his time irregardless of what has been said. We ask that you continue to pray and believe along with us. Thank you and God Bless.”

A hospital spokeswoman said the family was asking for privacy and would not comment. The hospital has not commented on the boy’s status at the hospital.

Villarreal said the family was still reeling from the sudden loss of a boy with boundless energy. He said Reyna played multiple sports and had challenged him to a basketball game just two days before he was admitted to the hospital.

"It's hard for me to believe that Zachary can be laying in bed when this kid would never run out of energy," Villarreal said. "It's hard for all of us to believe this is happening to him."

Zachary was initially infected with PAM, or primary amebic meningoencephalitis, after knee-boarding with friends in a water-filled ditch near his home in LaBelle, a small town midway between Lake Okeechobee and Fort Myers, according to his parents. State health officials said it is a medical mystery why some people who swim in amoeba-containing water contract the fatal condition while most people do not.

The parasite usually enters the body through the nose and travels up to the brain. There, the amoeba can cause an brain infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM) and destroy brain tissue, the Florida Department of Health said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 31 reported cases of PAM from 2003 to 2012. Only three people in North America have survived PAM since 1962.

Infections from the amoeba are rare. Florida officials cited federal statistics showing that 28 infections were reported in the U.S. from 2003 to 2012, mostly from exposure to contaminated recreational water.

A person cannot be infected with the amoeba by drinking contaminated water, state officials said, and the amoeba is not found in salt water.

Like Zachary, victims typically are exposed to the bug while swimming or doing water sports in warm ponds, lakes, rivers and canals during the hot summer months, mostly in the South.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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