‘Fighting his little heart out:’ 13-year-old Florida boy battles deadly brain-eating amoeba

Caleb Ziegelbauer experienced headaches, hallucinations

A 13-year-old Florida boy is fighting a rare brain-eating amoeba after a trip to Port Charlotte Beach.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – A 13-year-old Florida boy is fighting a rare brain-eating amoeba after a trip to Port Charlotte Beach, according to NBC2.

The boy, Caleb Ziegelbauer, traveled to the beach with his family on July 1 and one week later, he began experiencing headaches and hallucinations. The teen’s family said doctors diagnosed him with Naegleria fowleri, a rare brain-eating amoeba, that went through his nose and infected his brain.

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Port Charlotte Beach is bordered by Alligator Bay and Peace River. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Naegleria fowleri is found in bodies of warm freshwater, such as lakes and rivers, and not found in salt water, like the ocean.

“It destroys brain cells, I mean that’s really what it does,” said Dr. Todd Husty, an emergency medical specialist in Seminole County. “You can’t get this from drinking water, OK? You can get other things from drinking bad water, but you’re not gonna get this from drinking water. This is water up your nose.”

Husty told News 6 the probabilities of recovery are minimal unless the disease is caught early. According to Husty, symptoms start to show somewhere between 3-5 days but once the disease hits the spinal canal, it’s difficult to recover.

“If you have been swimming in freshwater lakes and there’s a new set of symptoms, you know, the headache, the fever, nausea and vomiting, if you get the stiff neck, it’s pretty late, it’s getting pretty late so the stiff neck is the next thing that shows up you really need to get to the emergency department,” he said.

The family said inflammation in the boy’s brain has grown since he arrived to the hospital but as of Saturday, he was still breathing on his own.

“He is fighting his little heart out on the inside,” Elizabeth Ziegelbaur, the boy’s aunt, told NBC2.

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About the Author:

Brenda Argueta is a digital journalist who joined ClickOrlando.com in March 2021. She graduated from UCF and returned to Central Florida after working in Colorado.