Caleb Ziegelbauer and his family left Tampa International Airport on for Chicago on Wednesday afternoon. His mom, Jesse Ziegelbauer, is hopeful that her son will pull through.
“Caleb is brave. Caleb is strong. Caleb is a fighter. Caleb is young. Caleb is healthy. Caleb has a brain capable of healing,” Jesse Ziegelbauer said. “He is made of pure grit and determination and it is exactly that which we are banking on to wake him up.”
Caleb got sick after his family took a trip to Port Charlotte Beach on July 1, NBC affiliate WBBH reported at the end of July. It took a week before the boy started showing symptoms, including headaches and hallucinations. He later ended up in the emergency room.
Doctors told Caleb’s parents they believed an amoeba, known as Naegleria fowleri, had entered the 13-year-old’s body through his nose and reached his brain.
Naegleria fowleri is typically found in warm freshwater, as well as soil, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts said the amoeba enters through a person’s nose when tainted water enters the nasal cavities. It typically happens while a person is swimming.
Brain-eating amoeba are not spread through person-to-person contact, but can be highly fatal to those who contract it. Victims develop a condition called “primary amebic meningoencephalitis.” The CDC said the fatality rate is over 97%, and only four people with confirmed cases are known to have survived.
“We won’t dwell on the last two months. We move forward, we continue to heal,” Jesse Ziegelbauer said. “And we couldn’t do without the help of our community, our family — all of you.”
Jet ICU, the air ambulance service that transported Caleb from Tampa to Chicago, flies seven aircraft, operating the largest long-range air ambulance fleet in North America. The accredited Tampa-based company also flies globally.
“He’s already fought one of the hardest, rarest diseases there are,” Jared Wayt of Jet ICU said of Caleb. “Jet ICU’s not gonna let a couple-hour flight up to Chicago stop his recovery.”