Miami-Dade County

Family donates organs of 12-year-old boy infected by ‘brain-eating’ amoeba

Family members of a 12-year-old boy who was infected by a rare and deadly amoeba confirmed Tuesday that he has died and that his organs were donated.

Zachary Reyna was kept on a ventilator after doctors at Miami Children’s Hospital determined that, although the brain-eating amoeba had been removed, it had caused severe brain damage, according to the Facebook page that his parents started to give updates on their son’s condition.

Zachary’s uncle, Daniel Reyna, said that his vital organs had been donated. The family has not yet returned home to LaBelle and funeral arrangements are incomplete, he said.

"His heart will be pumping for someone," his parents wrote on the Facebook page, "his lungs will be taking breaths for someone and all his other organs will change the lives of many."

Zachary’s death was reported Saturday after the family posted the news on its Facebook page: “Even though Zac has passed, he will still be saving many lives,” referring to the donation of his organs. The boy was brain dead but kept on a ventilator so his organs could be harvested.

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.

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 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.

This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.