13-year-old Tanner Lake Wall from Palatka, in North Florida, died on Aug. 2 from a brain-eating amoeba after his family went on vacation.
And now, his family is sharing his story to help spread awareness of the deadly amoeba.
Just a few days after the family returned from their stay at a campground, Wall began feeling sick. The family had swum at the facility’s lake and water park. Soon after, Tanner developed “nausea, vomiting, pretty bad headaches,” his father, Travis, told News4Jax.
Travis and Tanner’s mother, Alicia Whitehill, quickly took their son to a local medical center. At first, doctors diagnosed him with a sore throat but the parents knew that Tanner had more than that.
“I got pretty irate. [Alicia] was irate at this point,” Travis said. “I said, ‘You know what? Unhook him. Do whatever you need to do. We will transport him ourselves. I’m standing at the front door. Come outside. We will take him where we have to go.’”
They decided to take Tanner to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville where they learned he had contracted naegleria fowleri, a parasite more commonly referred to as brain-eating amoeba. The parasite can be found in warm freshwaters like lakes or contaminated pools and can enter the brain through the nose and cause a rare and typically incurable brain infection.
“They said, ‘We’re sorry to tell you this, but your son does not have bacterial meningitis. He has a parasitic amoeba, and there is no cure,’” Travis said.
Doctors then put Tanner on life support but by August 2, he had no brain activity. Travis and Alicia then made the difficult choice to take him off life support and later that day, Tanner passed away.
Travis and Alicia say that Tanner was a healthy and active kid before getting sick.
“He was very active. He loved the outdoors. He loves hunting, fishing,” Alicia said. “He was just somebody you always wanted to be around,” Travis added.
The parents are now urging others to be cautious when going into warm freshwater, especially in the later summer months.
“People need to be aware from July to the latter part of September, with the hot waters, that this amoeba, it can come up your nose,” Travis said. “It can be diving. It can be swimming, water sports, skiing, things like that.”
In addition, they also suggest that swimming facilities put up warning signs “so parents are aware.”
“I think would be a great way to prevent this from possibly happening to another family in the future,” Travis said. “Maybe they weren’t thinking about it because I can sure tell you we weren’t. We grew up swimming in ponds and creeks and stuff like that.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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