HEALTH

Boy Severely Ill After Infected By Brain-Eating Amoeba

Zachary Reyna was fighting for his life after contracting a rare infection that attacked his brain.

Zachary Reyna was fighting for his life after contracting a rare infection that attacked his brain.  (WSVN)

A Southwest Florida boy is fighting for his life after contracting a rare infection that is attacking his brain.

"We said, 'Oh, he just has a virus. He just has one of those 24-hour viruses,'" said Brandon Villarreal.

Relatives said Zachary Reyna spent August 3 knee-boarding in a ditch by his house near Fort Myers and slept the following day. "He slept all day, all night, and that's when my mom was like, 'OK, something's not right.'"

Sleeping this much was unusual for Zachary, an active and healthy 7th grader who plays baseball. "It just happened very quickly," said Villarreal.

Villarreal said one second his brother, Zachary, was playing and the next he was undergoing brain surgery. Doctors diagnosed the boy with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis (PAM). "It's just tough to see him like this," said Villarreal. "I wish I could just touch him and it would transfer over or something. It don't work like that."

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Experts said the infection is caused by an amoeba found in still, warm water. It traveled up Zachary's nose and into his brain. "He's fighting and he's strong. He's really, really strong," said Villarreal.

Zachary is currently in ICU at Miami Children's Hospital. "My mom tells him, 'Hey, you got to take the trash out, Zac,' and she'd tell him three or four times," said Villarreal. "He'd say, 'Mom, I got this, I'll do it.' We can see him now, as we're praying for him, him just saying, 'Hey. I got this.'"

Only three people have ever survived this deadly infection. Relatives are hoping Zachary will be the fourth. "He can be number four. That's what we're hoping for, for him to be number four," said Villarreal.

The family is staying positive, telling their young baseball player to not give up in this close game. "I told him its the ninth inning, ninth inning, two outs, runner on third, he's up to bat. It's his turn to hit it out. Bring the runs home so we can go home. It's time to win," said Villarreal.

Centers fo Disease Control said the infection is rare and the amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater (e.g. lakes, rivers and hot springs) and soil. Preventative measures are to wear ear plugs and nose plugs when diving and swimming in the bodies of water mentioned above.

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