TITUSVILLE, Fla. (CBS Tampa) — The Brevard County teen who suffered a rare brain infection caused by an amoeba died over the weekend.
The young girl, identified as 16-year-old Courtney Nash, was hospitalized on August 10 after complaining of headaches, vomiting, and coming down with a high fever her uncle, Tom Uzell, told reporters during a family news conference. A week earlier she had been swimming in the St. John’s River when it’s believed an amoeba entered her brain from the water. The rare infection has only seen one survivor since the 1970s, officials told CBS Tampa on Friday. Nash passed away on Saturday.
Nash’s uncle said an infectious disease doctor was in the lab when her spinal tap results came back and the doctor immediately recognized the amoeba.
“They worked tirelessly to try and kill the amoeba. They exhausted everything that’s been known as to how to treat this ailment. On Saturday morning she was declared no brain function whatsoever and at the point the decision was made, by her actually, prior, to have organ donation done,” said Uzell, who has been a paramedic for 27 years.
Courtney’s mother, PJ Nash-Ryder, said at least seven of her daughter’s organs had been donated, including both lungs, her liver, her pancreas, and her kidneys.
“I am so very proud of her. She’s one of a kind, she’s my angel, and I know that. I didn’t get my miracle, but she has performed other miracles, and I know she’s up in heaven with God. She must have been very special for (God) to take her, and that’s what’s comforting me,” Nash-Ryder said.
Her mother said Courtney, a junior in high school, helped the disabled through horse therapy and wanted to be an OB/GYN when she grew up.
Barry Inman, an epidemiologist with the Brevard County Health Department, told CBS Tampa that doctors see typically fewer than five cases a year of the infection, known as amoebic meningoencephalitis, throughout the entire country. Doctors treat it with anti-fungal medications and antibiotics.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Florida’s last confirmed case came in 2009.
“We have like one or two maybe a year. Sometimes we go a few years without having any cases in the United States, so it’s rare when it occurs, but when it occurs it’s not good,” Inman said.
Amoebic meningoencephalitis occurs often during very hot weather and is contracted in stagnant freshwater. “The water, because of jumping or swimming or whatever may occur, has to go up the nose into the nasal passages, into the sinuses, and into the brain,” Inman said. “In the brain you’ve got a lot of cerebral spinal fluid, you’ve got glucose, you’ve got protein, it’s just the perfect environment to proliferate and grow.”
Officials urge swimmers to avoid swimming in bodies of freshwater. Those who do should wear nose plugs or hold their nose when they jump or dive in.
Courtney will be laid to rest on Saturday. Anyone who would like to make a donation to help with funeral costs can do so at any local Wells Fargo bank location under Courtney’s name.