Maryland man contracted brain-eating amoeba while jet skiing, family says

A Maryland man made a resilient return to work this month nearly five months after an alleged brain-eating amoeba landed him in a coma and left him temporarily paralyzed from the neck down.

Ryan Perry, of Bel Air, said he was jet skiing on the Susquehanna in early May before suffering from severe headaches and vomiting.

According to his sister, who set up a GoFundMe page on his behalf, Perry was hospitalized on May 11, during which he began hallucinating and having “severe tremors, weakness of lower extremities, and his eyes drifted up to the ceiling the majority of his day.”

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Perry was then transferred to the University of Medical Center, according to his sister, where he deteriorated further and was placed in a medically induced coma.

Perry, pictured left during his hospital stay, has since returned to work and is continuing with out-patient physical therapy. 

Perry, pictured left during his hospital stay, has since returned to work and is continuing with out-patient physical therapy.  (GoFundMe)

“I tested negative for everything they could test me for,” Perry told WMAR2News.com. “Finally, what they determined is water went up my nose when I was jet-skiing. It attacked my brain, traveled to my spinal cord and paralyzed me from the neck down.”

Naegleria fowleri, or brain-eating amoebas as they are commonly called, are commonly found in warm freshwater, and infect people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose, such as when swimming or diving in warm freshwater lakes or rivers. The amoeba then travels up the nose to the brain, where it destroys tissue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You cannot be infected by drinking contaminated water, but in rare instances, it can be found in poorly maintained swimming pools.

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Brain-eating amoebas remain a rare occurrence in the U.S., with 34 infections reported in the U.S. between 2009 and 2018. Symptoms may mimic bacterial meningitis, and may begin about five days post-infection, but can start as early as the next day. Later symptoms may include stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations, according to the CDC. The fatality rate is over 97 percent, with only four people out of a known 145 cases surviving.

Perry spent months in the hospital before being transferred to an in-patient rehabilitation facility where he worked on gaining back his strength and has even regained the ability to stand. According to his sister, Perry began driving again and was able to return to work, but is still continuing with out-patient therapy.

“Initially it was, ‘We’re not sure if I’m ever going to be able to walk again,’ he told WMAR2News.com. “I had a neurology appointment at the University of Maryland and my neurologist told me she can’t believe the progress I’ve made and she thinks I will make if not a full recovery pretty close to it.”

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In September, the family of a 10-year-old girl who had been on life support since contracting a brain-eating amoeba while swimming in a Texas river announced that she had died. Lily Mae Avant had been flown to Cook Children’s Health Care System in Fort Worth after she was rushed to her local emergency room when she complained of a headache on Sept. 8. She was initially treated for both bacterial and viral meningitis, but a spinal tap revealed Naegleria fowleri.

Her family had been hopeful that an antimicrobial medication called miltefosine would rid her of the amoeba, but she did not recover.