Miracle Monday: teen survives brain-eating amoeba

Reporter: Amanda Hall Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

For this week’s Miracle Monday, we meet a 14-year-old boy who is proving his doctors wrong.

Four days. That’s how long doctors said Caleb Ziegelbauer would live with a brain-eating amoeba after swimming in the water off Port Charlotte Beach.

“We don’t listen to what anyone says, right? Because if we would have listened to you, would have been long gone. Right? We make our own prognosis,” said Caleb’s mother, Jesse Ziegelbauer.

Those four days have turned into more than 400 days and counting.

Caleb still uses a wheelchair, but he’s taking steps with the cautious eye of his younger sister, and he’s learning to talk again, using a combination of sign language and speech.

“All we can do is move forward and raise awareness,” Caleb said.

The awareness he’s referring to is for Naegleria Fowleri, or brain-eating amoeba, which is 97% fatal, according to the CDC, but 100% preventable, according to the Ziegelbauers, with simple nose plugs, something they wished they knew 13 months ago.

They thought Caleb had a virus when he came down with a headache and fever, but then, he started hallucinating, and his mom rushed him from Port Charlotte to Golisano Children’s Hospital in South Fort Myers.

“In the hour car ride, he deteriorated rapidly. He was no longer coherent. By the time we got here, he could no longer walk,” Jesse said.

Doctors quickly ruled out meningitis and immediately started treating him for a brain-eating amoeba.

The CDC has not officially confirmed Caleb’s case, but that doesn’t change the fact that he spent 54 days in intensive care.

“I remember sitting in the ICU going, just hold on, just hold on, just keep living,” Jesse said.

He was still unresponsive when he was flown to Chicago for rehabilitation, but that’s where, after five excruciating months, he spoke his first words, words new parents wait months to hear from their babies, words Jesse wasn’t supposed to hear again.

“I love you,” Caleb said.

A walking, talking medical miracle.

Caleb started physical therapy in July, and the family plans to run a 5K when he’s back to full strength, which they say, he will be.

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