Star student dies of brain-eating amoeba


August 4, 2023 | 9:58

Star student Megan Ebenroth, 17, tragically died last month after contracting a rare, brain-eating amoeba while swimming in Georgia.

The death was reported last month, but the victim’s identity was not confirmed until now.

“I’m still in shock,” said the teenager’s mother, Chrissy Ebenroth Atlanta Journal-Constitution as we discussed the passing of the “extraordinary” student. “But I can’t keep quiet about her.”

Megan and several friends had reportedly gone swimming on July 11 in a lake near her home in Dearing, McDuffie County.

The high school senior had wanted to enjoy the last few weeks of summer before starting her senior year.

Four days later, Megan woke up with a severe headache, prompting her mother to rush her to the hospital.

“It just doesn’t feel right,” said the victim’s mother Chrissy Ebenroth. “It seems like she’s going to walk into my house at any moment. It just doesn’t feel like it’s happened to us.”
Courtesy of the Ebenroth Family

Doctors diagnosed the youngster with sinusitis, prescribed her an antibiotic and sent her home.

Unfortunately, the teenager’s symptoms continued to worsen over the week as she began to experience fevers, migraines and loss of balance, WLTX reported.

“It was all such a blur because her mental state changed so drastically,” Chrissy said.

The studious teenager had dreamed of attending the University of Georgia ever since she was in the sixth grade.
Courtesy of the Ebenroth Family

Left with little other choice, the distraught parent rushed her daughter to the hospital, where she was immediately intubated and placed in a medically induced coma.

At one point, doctors opened the patient’s skull to relieve the swelling on her brain.

“The stage we were at was not one Megan could come back from,” lamented her fallen mother, who still had no idea what was causing her daughter’s symptoms.

It wasn’t until Friday, July 21, that doctors suggested her complications were caused by an infection with Naegleria fowleri, the now infamous brain-eating amoeba that swims up people’s noses and colonizes their brains.

Naegleria fowleri is insidious as it is often not detected until it is too late.
Courtesy of the Ebenroth Family

Specifically, it infects victims with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a catastrophic condition that causes destruction of brain tissue and swelling of the brain, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although found worldwide, the microscopic monster lives predominantly in warm freshwater, such as lakes and rivers and hot springs, and can even inhabit poorly maintained swimming pools.

Naegleria fowleri cannot survive in salt water and cannot be spread from one person to another.

Unfortunately, the prognosis is not good for victims of this amoeba infection, which is reportedly fatal 97% of the time.

As was the case with Megan, symptoms – which can begin between 1 and 12 days after infection – initially include severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting before progressing to a stiff neck, seizures and coma.

Death usually occurs within five days.

The parasite resides in freshwater areas around the world.
Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF

A day after being diagnosed, Megan tragically died – 11 days after initially contracting the parasite.

McDuffie County Coroner Paul Johnson later confirmed HS senior had died of the rare brain infection, marking Georgia’s sixth amoeba-related death since 1962.

State health officials neglected to disclose the location of the lake for fear of insinuating that it is the only body of water where the parasite could reside.

“It just doesn’t feel right,” Chrissy Ebenroth said while discussing her daughter’s passing. “It seems like she’s going to walk into my house at any moment. It just doesn’t feel like it’s happened to us.”

Ebenroth had been swimming in a lake with friends to enjoy her last few weeks of summer before starting her senior year.
Courtesy of the Ebenroth Family

This marked a tragic end for Megan, who is remembered by friends and family as a highly motivated student with big dreams and a vibrant personality.

Ever since sixth grade, Megan has dreamed of attending the University of Georgia, and she worked hard to achieve her goal by earning straight As and becoming president of the Beta Club and vice president of the Spanish Club.

The studious scholar had recently joined her high school tennis team to help round out her resume.

Megan’s mother Chrissy described herself and her daughter as “best friends”.

She explained: “She would tell people I was her best friend and I said ‘Honey I can’t be your best friend’ and three weeks ago she said ‘come on mum you know I’m your best friend, and I said, ‘Yes honey, you are.'”

The teenager’s funeral was held on July 26 at the family’s church, Fort Creek Baptist Church, in Dearing, Georgia.

Under 125X magnification, this photomicrograph of a brain tissue sample depicts the cytoarchitectonic changes associated with a free-living, Naegleria fowleri, amoebic infection.
Getty Images

In light of the tragedy, Chrissy hopes to spread awareness of the disease, which often goes undiagnosed until it’s too late.

“Going forward, I want it to be one of my main focuses,” the determined guardian declared, “finding a way to diagnose this earlier.”

Part of the problem is that only a few laboratories in the United States offer the specific tests capable of detecting the microbe.

Not to mention that it is often confused with viral meningitis, a more common disease that has similar symptoms but is far more treatable.

Of the 157 known amoeba-infected people in the United States from 1962-2022, only four people have survived.

Unfortunately, N. fowleri cases could see a larger increase in the future because the microbe could be spreading due to climate change.

Scientists argue that warming temperatures are creating ideal conditions for the amoeba to increasingly thrive in bodies of water in the northern United States.

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