ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - A South Florida teenager, treated at Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando, is now the fourth person in the United States to have survived a brain-eating amoeba.
"Now, he's currently walking, talking, you know it's a miracle. It's a miracle," said Dr. Humberto Liriano.
The physician got emotional at times as he spoke about his 16-year-old patient.
"I've treated amoeba cases in the past. They're all severely marginal, fatal. This is a story we need to tell about Sebastian," Dr. Liriano said.
Two weeks ago the teen came to Orlando from South Florida vacationing with his family. On Friday, August 5, he started complaining of a headache. By Sunday, August 7, the headache grew so severe that the teen chose to go to the emergency room, instead of an amusement park.
"He was sitting in bed, talking, answering questions, watching TV. We could tell he had quite a lot of photophobia -- the light bothering him, because even in the room, he was wearing sunglasses," said Dr. Dennis Hernandez.
Typical amoeba victims also complain of suffering from a stiff neck and run fevers. Doctors admit they didn't immediately think Sebastian had an amoeba. His parents expained that their son is a camp counselor and had recently been swimming in freshwater lakes. Doctors took cerebral spinal fluid samples and rushed them to the lab, asking technicians to look for amoebas.
"You literally have to look and watch, and that's' when I saw the pseudopods move on the amoeba," said Sheila Black, who made the discovery in Sebastian's lab work.
Doctors delivered the life-threatening news of the amoeba to Sebastian's mom and dad.
"I had to tell them to say their 'goodbyes.' I had to tell them tell them everything you want to tell your child," said Dr. Liriano.
Immediately, the medical team put Sebastian on a cocktail of seven drugs. One of the medications is manufactured in Central Florida and was just cleared by the Centers for Disease Control to be used for this purpose. It was delivered to the hospital in 11 minutes.
"This infection can be rapidly fatal. Minutes count. Having the drug at hand, and really all treatments at hand, is crucial."
Next, a team of doctors started lowering Sebastian's body temperature to 33 degrees Fahrenheit, to slow the amoeba.
"The amoeba is a parasite that really thrives in warm temperatures, especially when you go over 80 to 90 degrees. That's where it finds the optimal condition for it's replication and causes more damage," doctors explained. "He got everything within four hours. He got cooled, all the medication, he got into a coma and put the breathing tube in, within four hours," said Dr. Liriano.
Doctors kept Sebastian in the medically-induced coma until lab results showed no sign of the amoeba three days later.
"We woke him up, and we decided to take the breathing tube out and within hours he spoke," said Dr. Liriano, as he choked up.
This is the first amoeba patient he has treated who survived. Doctors say Sebastian's condition continues to improve. His parents prayers, answered.
"We are so thankful for this gift of life," said Brunilda Gonzalez, Sebastian's mom.
The teen was expected to go home on Tuesday. He has two more weeks of medications to take, then he will undergo more lab work, to make sure all signs of the amoeba are still gone.