PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Nothing was out of the ordinary when 13-year-old Caleb Ziegelbauer and his family began their trip to Port Charlotte Beach on July 1. Ziegelbauer was fine for a week before the sudden headaches and hallucinations started.
When Caleb’s parents took him to the emergency room, the doctors told his parents a rare, brain-eating amoeba had entered his body through his nose and infected his brain.
Dr. Joseph Pepe from the Charlotte County Health Department said, “pre-fourth of July all the way through until now, there’s not been an alert level for any bacteria levels in Charlotte County.”
He said the amoeba can be found in many warm fresh water sources, tap water and even in rare occasions brackish water.
“Unfortunately they sent two samples to the CDC for confirmation and the CDC said it was inconclusive. They couldn’t find it, but they couldn’t say it was negative for sure. Based on history, symptoms and how he’s presented kind of over the last two weeks… his medical staff on Wednesday kind of said that they’re mostly sure this is what they’re dealing with,” said Katie Chet, Caleb’s aunt.
One way to for sure avoid this amoeba is to wear a nose clip when venturing under water.
“He’s just the kindest soul but he’s so strong. He’s so strong. Like the fighting on the outside, that’s what we’re doing,” Caleb’s aunt, Elizabeth Ziegelbaur, said. “He is fighting his little heart out on the inside.”
Statistics show Caleb is fighting a battle 75% lose.
“A lot of times people don’t get to the hospital quickly enough,” Katie Chiet, added. “We’re hoping that we did.”
Caleb’s initial diagnosis was complicated and not easily identified right away.
“Unfortunately the Naegleria fowleri presents as if a child has meningitis,” Chiet said. That’s why it took a few days to put two and two together because of Caleb’s exposure to water.
Chiet said with only so many people who know what they’re going through… things are tough right now.
“It’s very lonely and isolating to walk this path because we don’t know where we are on any kind of timeline. It’s day 17 and Caleb is still breathing on his own. Are we in the clear? Are we on the path to healing? Are we waiting for something else to happen,” Chiet said.
She explained the inflammation in Caleb’s brain has grown significantly since he first got to the hospital. Caleb’s family is staying positive throughout the diagnosis.
“All we can do is hold onto hope because we know he’s going to fight through this. He will. You’ll be doing a story soon how he fought through this, and his amazing recovery,” Ziegelbaur said.
“We’re hoping against hope that Caleb becomes survivor #6 but we have a long road ahead of us,” Chiet added.
You can read more about the amoeba Naegleria fowleri here.