A Florida teen has beaten the odds to become only the fourth person ever to survive a brain-eating amoeba infection.
Sebastian DeLeon, 16, of South Florida, was vacationing with family in the Orlando area when the rare but deadly disease struck.
Nearly everyone dies after being infected with Naegleria fowleri. But a series of miraculous events and a lot of luck saved the teen's life.
Sebastian's saga began when he complained of a serious headache. When the headache grew worse, his parents found Florida Hospital through an online search,
He was admitted to its Children's Emergency Department on August 7.
Doctors initially believed Sebastian was suffering from meningitis and ordered a spinal tap. While the test was negative for meningitis, something told a pathologist named Sheila Black to study the microscope slide further.
"I went back and studied it for a while," Black told WKMG. "The amoebas aren't very active so you have to look and watch. And that's when I saw the pseudopods moving on the amoeba."
The moment the deadly little single-celled organisms were spotted, Sebastian's caregivers had a diagnosis.
In any area outside Orlando, the next step would have been to waste precious hours waiting for an uncommon medication that's prescribed off-label to kill Naegleria to be delivered.
Thankfully, the only manufacturer of the drug is located in Orlando. Within 12 minutes of their call to a pharmacist, Sebastian's caregivers had their drug.
Along with the medication, doctors lowered Sebastian's body temperature, induced a coma and gave him steroids to reduce inflammation.
While they waited and prayed, doctors had no choice but to tell Sebastian's parents to say their last goodbyes.
Miraculously, Sebastian fought off the amoeba.
"I’m so grateful that the staff at Florida Hospital for Children were able to catch this rare infection so quickly, and even heal my son. We were fortunate to be so close," said Brunilda Gonzalez, Sebastian’s mother. "Thank you to everyone on the staff. And thank you to God, who guided them. I truly believe this was a miracle."
Naegleria infections are extremely rare. In the past 50 years, only four people have survived the country’s reported 138 cases, according to the CDC.
"For two years, Florida Hospital has placed special emphasis on knowing the signs and symptoms of this deadly infection," said Dr. Rajan Wadhawan, chief medical officer of Florida Hospital for Children. "We believe this concerted effort to educate our medical teams led to the quick thinking and action that saved Sebastian’s life."
Sebastian was the fourth person to be diagnosed with a Naegleria fowleri in the United States this year. Hannah Katherine Collins, 11, became infected with the parasite while swimming a river in South Carolina in July.
In June, an Ohio woman died after becoming infected while visiting a water park in North Carolina during a church group vacation.
The Texas Department of Health also confirmed a Naegleria death this summer.