Florida boy fighting rare brain-eating amoeba flown to Chicago for treatment


TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A 13-year-old Florida boy who has been fighting a brain-eating amoeba for more than two months was flown by a Tampa-based air ambulance company to Chicago for continued treatment on Wednesday.

Jet ICU provided the flight and transport for Caleb Ziegelbauer. He and his family left from Tampa International Airport on Wednesday afternoon. He will be fighting the amoeba at the Shirly Ryan ability lab.

“Caleb is brave. Caleb is strong. Caleb is a fighter. Caleb is young. Caleb is healthy. Caleb has a brain capable of healing,” his mom Jesse Ziegelbauer said before their departure. “He is made of pure grit and determination and it is exactly that which we are banking on to wake him up.”

NBC affiliate WBBH reported at the end of July that Caleb got sick after his family took a trip to Port Charlotte Beach on July 1. 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 the amoeba Naegleria fowleri had entered the 13-year-old’s body through his nose and reached his brain.

According to the CDC the amoeba is typically found in warm freshwater, as well as soil. 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.

It is not spread through person-to-person contact but is highly fatal to those who contract it, who develop a condition called “primary amebic meningoencephalitis.” The CDC said the fatality rate is over 97%, and only 10 cases were reported from 2012 to 2021.

“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 flies seven aircraft, operating the largest long-range air ambulance fleet in North America. The accredited Tampa-based company flies globally.

“He’s already fought one of the hardest, rarest diseases there are,” Jared Wayt from Jet ICU said. “Jet ICU’s not gonna let a couple-hour flight up to Chicago stop his recovery.”

A GoFundMe has raised over $65,000.

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