The Broward teen who beat the odds against a brain-eating amoeba has been identified as 16-year-old Sebastian DeLeon.
During a news conference held at Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando on Tuesday, doctors explained Sebastian’s story.
He was vacationing in Orlando at a theme park with his family when he developed a severe and very painful headache. The headache was so intense, doctors said, he couldn’t tolerate people touching him.
He was admitted to the hospital on August Seventh with symptoms of meningitis but was quickly tested for the amoeba Naegleria fowleri. He tested positive. Infection by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri is rare, but it kills about 97 percent of the patients. DeLeon is now one of just four people in the last 50 years to survive this type of infection.
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Dr. Humberto Liriano, Critical Care Intensivist Physician told his family after first being admitted, the diagnosis was fatal.
“The family when they came to me immediately within 24 hours, I had to tell them to just say their goodbyes. I had to tell them ‘tell him everything you want to tell your child because I don’t know from the time I put him to sleep to the time I take the tube out, will he wake up’.”
But he did survive, with help from a drug produced by an Orlando Company, Profunda, which provided the drug to the hospital within 12 minutes after his positive diagnosis.
DeLeon was in a chemically-induced coma for about 72-hours.
During that time, doctors continually took fluid samples to test for the amoeba and sent daily samples to the CDC, who corroborated their diagnoses. Eventually, the samples came back negative.
A wave of emotion took over Dr. Liriano the news conference because he explained he’s treated cases of Naegleria fowleri before, and they’ve all been fatal.
“We decided to take the breathing tube out and within hours he spoke,” said Dr. Liriano. “Since then he has done tremendously well. He is walking, he is speaking, he is ready to go home. He went out for the first time to get some fresh air. We believe, optimistically, he will recover and get rehab.”
His mother, identified only as Ms. Gonzalez, also spoke a few words Tuesday morning. She thanked God, the medical staff and “every person who came to our room and gave us words of comfort and information. They were so open with us, with everything that was happening and we are so thankful,” she said. She described her son as a very energetic teen and “full of life”.
No word yet on when he’ll be released from the hospital.
The infection stems from a microscopic, single-cell amoeba that thrives in warm freshwater, such as lakes, ponds and rivers. It enters the body through the nose and makes its way to the brain, where it destroys the brain tissue, causing what’s known as Primary amebic meningoencephalitis or PAM.
Early signs of infection include severe headache, vomiting and fever, which can then advance to stiff neck, seizures and coma.
They usually appear between one to 14 days after infection.