It’s just a little thing — a unicellular organism that is often used to teach kids the basics of cell biology. The ameoba, in its various species, has a number of ways of killing Homo sapiens dead, dead, dead, such as dysentery (a bad way to go) and this one, a brain infection that the press describes as the amoebas “eating the brain” — a vivid, if not precise, description of the process this poor kid underwent. The technical term, which one hopes never to hear in a hospital waiting room, is primary amoebic meningoencephalitis.
An 11-year-old South Carolina girl has died after she became infected by a brain-eating amoeba in a river where she had gone swimming, an undertaker said on Saturday.
The girl, Hannah Collins, of Beaufort, died on Friday night at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, said Carla Smith, director-manager of the Anderson Funeral Home in Beaufort, which is handling the funeral.
Hannah is thought to have been exposed to the amoeba on July 24 in Charleston County’s Edisto River, the state health department said this week.
Hannah’s mother, Elizabeth Crockett, wrote on a Facebook page dedicated to her: “I will try to find comfort in the fact I will one day be united with her in her new home, Heaven.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that a South Carolina resident had been exposed to the Naegleria fowleri organism, which is found in warm freshwater and triggers an infection that destroys brain tissue.
The fatality rate for an infected person is more than 97 percent, according to the CDC.
The brain-eating amoeba was blamed for the death in June of an 18-year-old Ohio woman, who became infected after rafting at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In another recent case, a kid infected with Naegleria fowleri beat the infection and lived, but that’s a very rare outcome. Doctors are cautiously optimistic that a combination of induced coma, antibiotics and cryotherapy (as we understand it, they reduced the survivor’s core temperature to 93ºF — maybe 34ºC) and drugs may save more patients going forward. But the fate that befell poor Miss Collins is the standard prognosis. (Indeed, the survivor’s doctor, told the kid’s family to say their goodbyes before putting him under).
Human life is very fragile. Another of our family members is at death’s door this week, although he has long been ill; but all these things, taken together, remind us to celebrate family and friends when we have them, because there is so much to say when they are gone, and no one to say it too.
May the Collins family find, if not actual peace, a modus vivendi with this heartbreaking loss. And everyone else, take the time to hold someone close.