Written by Anne Marie Ward
Art by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash
“I don’t know what my body is for other than just taking my head from room to room.” -John Mulaney, Kid Gorgeous
Recently, a New Jersey man named Fabrizio Stabile was admitted to the hospital after developing a blinding headache and passing out. CNN reported that soon, his doctors diagnosed him with the incredibly rare and deadly condition called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM), inflammation and deterioration of the brain caused by what is more commonly known as the Brain-Eating Amoeba and scientifically known as Naegleria fowleri.
These critters live in warm freshwater. In the United States, they are most commonly found and contracted in the South. Stabile contracted the microbe from a contaminated water park in Waco, Texas, which was partly shut down for inspection after this ordeal. He died a few days after the onset of severe symptoms, after he collapsed mowing the lawn, after the health professionals tapped his spine and found the amoeba swimming in his clear spinal fluid. Too late to successfully treat.
Often, N. fowleri is diagnosed postmortem. It’s almost always fatal. The condition is incredibly rare, but since the occurrence is not below 0, it occurs 100% more often than preferred because of the lack of successful treatments.
With the last few cases, albeit not all of them, physicians have had some success in treating patients, often children, with a newly-developed, powerful antimicrobial called miltefosine. They combine miltefosine with a cocktail of other antimicrobials, a breathing tube, a drug-induced coma to protect the brain, and prayers. They continue to run tests periodically, hoping to see amoeba no more. A Florida teen survived in 2016, as well as two children treated with miltefosine some years before. Although, the one boy survived with brain damage. The only person to survive without this drug was a man in California in 1978, and they can only conjecture that was because he had a less-aggressive or weakened strain.
Fabrizio Stabile was not so lucky, and while it might’ve been too late to treat, those close to him really tried. His family and friends already started a GoFundMe to raise money for the life-saving drug, as he lay dying. Now the GoFundMe acts as a way to raise awareness about PAM, having raised a little over half of their original $50,000 goal.