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Loogootee Family Wants Something Done About Brain Eating Amoeba

Last updated on Friday, September 7, 2012

(LOOGOOTEE) - The family of a Waylon Able, who died from a “brain eating amoeba,” now wants health officials to test other lakes and spread awareness about the parasite.

30-year-old Waylon Abel of Loogootee went swimming in West Boggs Lake on July 15th and died on August 7th at St. Mary's Medical Center in Evansville.

His father, John Abel, says the autopsy revealed Waylon was killed by primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM.

The disease, also known in some circles as the "brain-eating amoeba," is very rare but can be fatal if one catches the parasite. The parasite, called naegleria fowleri, is found in warm freshwater bodies.

Family members believe Abel ingested the very rare parasite from swimming at the beach at West Boggs. West Boggs officials closed the beach Friday.

West Boggs Superintendent Mike Axsom said in a press release that officials decided to close the beach as a precaution and until further information could be gathered.

The Daviess County Health Department sent out a press release that says further testing is being done. The results are expected to be released next week.

John said his son was feeling bad around Aug. 3, complaining of headaches, nausea and stiffness. He rested until the morning of Aug. 6, when his girlfriend, Rene Sipes, felt he needed to go to the hospital.

Waylon called his father before he left saying he needed pray and was scared.

He was taken to the emergency room at Jasper Memorial Hospital where he was treated and then discharged with medication for bacterial and viral meningitis. The doctor there told the family Waylon would be better in a couple days.

But Waylon was not. He got worse and then was taken back to Jasper Memorial later that evening at around 7 p.m.

From there, he progressively became worse.

At 2 a.m. Waylon was taken for a for CAT scan and 90 minutes later, the family was told there was no hope.

That is when John decided to take his son to a hospital where there was a neurologist on staff. He was taken by helicopter to St. Mary's. There doctors told John too much time had passed and there was nothing they could do for Waylon. He died at 4:25 p.m.

Primary amebic meningeoencephalitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control, comes from an infection from the naegleria, a single-celled organism that commonly lives in warm freshwater.

The Naegleria folweri enters the body, according to the CDC, through the nose, after which it travels up to the brain and starts destroying brain tissue.

Waylon left behind three children, a fiancee and several siblings.

Dr. Karen Roos, a neurologist at IU Health, said the amoeba thrives in hot, shallow freshwater and travels up through the nose into the brain.

"The amoeba goes up your nose into the nerve right behind your nose... the nerve that you smell with, and then gets into your brain and eats its way through your brain," said Dr. Roos.

She said it can be deadly and is very difficult to catch.

"You feel like you have a cold. You have a little bit of a runny nose. That'll be followed by a headache and fever and stiff neck," explained Dr. Roos. "By that point the amoeba is already eating through your brain and you'll quickly become comatose and you can die very quickly."

This summer's drought and heat wave probably didn't help, she added, making it very likely the parasite is in more than one lake.

Even if the CDC finds the amoeba, it's unclear what would be done about it.

That is not good enough for John Abel, who believes more should be done to protect the public.

"I don't wanna see one more person die of this," he said.

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