Rare, Freshwater Amoeba Kills California Woman


After the unexpected death of her 24-year-old daughter, a mother is fighting to raise awareness for the rare condition that took her child’s life.

Kelsey McClain of El Cajon, California, loved to spend time fishing and waterskiing, KGTV reports.

"Pretty much anything to do with the outdoors, she loved," Jennifer McClain, Kelsey’s mother, told the news station.

Unfortunately, a vacation outdoors ultimately cost Kelsey her life.

In August 2015, Kelsey went to Colorado to celebrate her birthday at the Fisher’s Landing resort, which is located along the Colorado River. A few days after she returned to California, she began to suffer from severe headaches. The following day, she was unable to move her head or talk.

"It was apparent to everyone this was progressing," Jennifer said.

Doctors suspected bacterial meningitis. Medication did not alleviate her symptoms, and Kelsey’s condition quickly deteriorated into a full grand mal seizure.

A mere eight days after returning to California, Kelsey was pronounced brain dead.

"My life is ruined, destroyed," Jennifer said. "I have two other daughters, but it doesn't matter."

When doctors sent Kelsey’s spinal fluid to a lab at University of California, San Diego, they discovered that Kelsey was affected by Naegleria fowleri, a brain-eating amoeba located in lakes, freshwater rivers and hot springs. Out of the 133 recorded cases of this condition throughout the past 50 years, only three people survived. The amoeba enters the human body through the nose.

The disease is considered to be too rare and preventable to be placed on a notification list for the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, according to Director Jeffrey Engel.

"For every one patient that will die of Naegleria, a thousand more people will die of drowning," Navaz Karanjia, medical director for UC San Diego's Neurocritical Care Program, told KNSD.

Although a medication called miltefosine could have possibly helped, doctors were not able to attempt it because they could not properly diagnose Kelsey's condition.

Shirley Bush, a partner at Fisher’s Landing, told KGTV that they had never heard of the disease before Kelsey's case. Warning signs have since been posted at the facilities and swimmer’s nose clips may soon be available at the gift shop.

Jennifer wants to raise awareness of the disease in memory of her daughter.

"She was just sort of the glue, of our family," she said.

Sources: KGTV, KNSD / Photo Credit: KGTV

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