Three weeks after contracting a deadly brain-eating parasite near his Southwest Florida home in LaBelle, the family of Zachary Reyna announced the 12 year-old boy's tragic death on Sunday, August 25, in a Miami hospital.
Reyna was believed to have been stricken with primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, while knee-boarding with friends in a water-filled ditch by his house on August 3.
Caused by contact the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, which grows in warm, fresh-water sources, the infection is rare, but one of the most severe known to science. Entering the body through the nose and traveling to the brain, it produces mild initial symptoms of headaches and nausea. Within a week, more severe signs like seizures and hallucinations appear and the disease can quickly shut-down an entire body.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there have only been 31 cases of PAM in the past decade. Many victims were children playing around water during the warm summers of the Southeast, much like Zac Reyna.
The Hendry County 7th grader underwent brain surgery at Miami Children's Hospital and initial hopes were positive that the child could become just the fourth person in the past 50 years to survive the infection.
In fact, the success of 12 year-old Kali Hardig of Arkansas in fighting the same affliction earlier this year made headlines. Many hoped Reyna would share a similar fate when he was treated with the same experimental drugs.
A family-established Facebook page entitled "Pray4Number4" was dedicated to prayers for the little-leaguer and received over 17,000 likes. Messages of hope continued to appear until Sunday, when the family announced their loss with the following update:
"At 1:54 today there was a crack of a bat heard. Zac took it deep. My boy hit his homerun. One that I'll never forget. I'm so proud of him. He left it all on the field and I can't ask for more. He did so well that he'll be the starting 2nd baseman for The Lords team."
Though Reyna was pronounced brain-dead on Sunday, his body remained on a ventilator at Miami Children's Hospital a day later. According to social media updates, the decision was made so family could say goodbyes and the boy's organs could be preserved for donation.
A further update to the Facebook page late Monday night revealed these wishes were successfully carried out.
"Tonight at 10:13PM, Zachary Cole Reyna began his journey to save lives. Zac donated all his organs to others that were waiting on a miracle. Through donating his organs, Zac is living on."
Though the loss of a child at such a tender age is tragic, his the story is a touching example of a family relying on strong faith to persevere through life's hardest times.
It also provides an intimidating warning about the rare, but ever-present danger of the Naegleria fowleri amoeba right here in muggy Florida.
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