Zachary Reyna, Facebook

Latino boy dies after fighting rare brain-eating infection, unites community

A 12-year-old Florida boy who united a community while battling a rare brain-eating infection died Saturday, his parents said.

Despite his death, Zachary Reyna united a large online community who posted words on encouragement, prayer and support through social media postings.

“Even though Zac has passed, he will still be saving many lives,” said the father, Jesse Reyna, through a Facebook page for the boy.

The boy was being treated for primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), an infection caused by a microscopic single-celled living amoeba commonly found in freshwater lakes, ponds and rivers.

The family said Zachary Reyna had been knee boarding in a water-filled ditch by his home and later became very ill.

After antibiotic treatment, tests showed negative activity from the amoeba, Jesse Reyna said. But after weeks of treatment, the boy was unable to regain brain activity.

“Extensive damage was done to his brain,” Jesse Reyna said in the initial stages of the infection as he asked for prayers from the community.

According to the Facebook postings by the family, Zachary Reyna’s organs were strong and will be donated at the Miami Children’s Hospital.

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Zachary Reyna’s condition is very rare.

The amoeba can enter through the nose into the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2003 to 2012 there have been 31 reported cases of PAM. Of those, 28 have been linked to recreational water, three from nose irrigation with contaminated water. These infections are more likely in Southern states but are extremely rare.

Florida Health officials said a person cannot be infected with the amoeba by drinking contaminated water, and the amoeba is not found in salt water.

The family continues to receive large support through the Facebook page, “Pray 4 Number 4,” where they post continuous updates of the boy.

“I hope that Zac continues to touch people and his time here is remembered forever,” said Jesse Reyna. “We thank everyone for being so caring and I know it’s going to be tough on us at first, but we have an awesome support team.”

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