Florida Teen Survives Brain-Eating Amoeba

A teen hospitalized in Florida has beaten the odds against a brain-eating amoeba.

Sixteen-year-old Sebastian DeLeon is now one of just four people in the last 50 years to survive a diagnosis that almost always means death, CBS Miami reports.

While choking back tears at a press conference Tuesday morning, Dr. Humberto Liriano, who treated DeLeon at Orlando’s Florida Hospital for Children, recounted how he helped treat the teen and gave an update on his condition.

“We are very optimistic,” he said. “He’s walking. He’s speaking. I saw him this morning and he’s ready to go home,” although he added that the teen wasn’t quite ready and will still need rehabilitation.

Liriano said that the teen and his family were visiting a theme park in Orlando when he developed a headache so severe he could not tolerate being touched.

Within 12 minutes, a newly-approved life-saving drug arrived at the hospital’s doors. The drug, miltefosine, comes from by a company called Profunda which happens to be based in Orlando. Treatment with the drug was credited with saving an Arkansas girl in 2013. (A dose was also rushed to South Carolina earlier this month to treat an 11-year-old girl, but she did not survive.)

Doctors worked to stabilize DeLeon and induced him into a coma for three days until it was deemed safe to wake him up. Within hours, he spoke.

DeLeon’s mother, Brunida Gonzales, also spoke briefly at the hospital Tuesday morning. She thanked God, and praised the medical staff and “every person who came to our room and gave us words of comfort and information. They were so open with us, with everything that was happening. And we are so thankful that God has given us the miracle through this medical team and this hospital for having our son back, having him full of life,” she said.

She described her son as a very energetic and adventurous teen.

Naegleria fowleri, a microscopic, single-cell amoeba, is found in the brackish waters of freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers.

While not dangerous if swallowed, it can attack the brain if it gets into the nasal cavity.

Initial symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck. They usually appear between one to 14 days after infection.

Although the infection is very rare, it is extremely lethal, killing 97 percent of people infected.

“I’ve treated amoeba cases in the past and they’re all severely… fatal,” DeLeon’s doctor said. “So this is a story we need to tell about Sebastian DeLeon.”