INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A parasite commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba” infected a man teaching his daughter to swim in a southwestern Indiana lake, killing him within weeks, his father said Tuesday.
State and federal officials have not yet confirmed that Waylon Abel, 30, of Loogootee, died of a rare, usually fatal infection known as primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, but an autopsy report released Friday listed it as the primary cause of death.
Abel went to Jasper Memorial Hospital with a headache, nausea vomiting and fever on Aug. 4 and received antibiotics, the autopsy report said. He returned 12 hours later and was diagnosed with what doctors suspected was bacterial meningitis.
“He said, ‘Dad, I don’t feel good. Pray for me.’ I told him I would,” said John Abel of Shoals.
The Loogootee man’s condition worsened, and he was placed on a ventilator and airlifted Aug. 7 to St. Mary’s Medical Center in Evansville, where he died hours later, five days before his 31st birthday. The story was first reported Aug. 31 in the Washington Times-Herald.
The autopsy report prompted the Daviess County Health Department to issue an advisory about PAM and Superintendent Michael Axsom of the Daviess-Martin Joint County Parks and Recreation Department to order the beach closed for the season Friday at West Boggs Lake, about 60 miles northeast of Evansville.
Abel became ill about three weeks after taking his family to West Boggs Lake on July 15 to celebrate his daughter Faith’s 13th birthday, John Abel said.
“Faith told me he was trying to teach her to swim,” Abel said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has three confirmed cases of PAM year this year in Minnesota, Oklahoma and South Carolina and expects to receive and test samples of the suspected Indiana case later this week, spokeswoman Candice Burns Hoffmann said.
The parasite that causes the disease, Naegleria fowleri, thrives in warm water, and PAM occurs during the summer when the temperature is hottest, she said.
“However, we are unclear on the link between summers with drought and high temperature and increased risk for Naegleria fowleri infection,” she said in an email message.
The amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain, where it destroys tissue, the CDC says on its website. From 2002 to 2011, 32 infections were reported in the U.S. Only one person has survived out of 123 known U.S. cases from 1962 to 2011.
John Abel said his son did not become ill until the day before he first went to the Jasper hospital.
About a week earlier, Waylon Abel had helped pull a driver from the car of a burning vehicle after an accident in front of John Abel’s home.
“That car was completely on fire. He saved that guy’s life,” John Abel said in a telephone interview.
Abel said he and his wife introduced their son to his fiancee, Renee Sipes, two years ago. They brought a combined five children, ages 6 to 15, into their common household and were planning to marry next month.
“That was his true love. That’s what he told me. He never knew what true love was until he met her,” John Abel said.
“It’s a terrible loss,” he added.
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