After swimming in a campground's lake and water park, Tanner Lake Wall was diagnosed with a rare parasitic amoeba

By Julie Mazziotta
September 11, 2020 11:52 AM
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Tanner Lake Wall

A Florida family is in mourning after their 13-year-old son died from a brain-eating amoeba, likely contracted while on vacation.

Tanner Lake Wall, from Palatka, in North Florida, died on Aug. 2, and his family is now sharing his story to spread awareness of the deadly amoeba.

Wall started feeling sick just days after the family returned from their stay at a campground, where he and his family swam at the facility’s lake and water park. Tanner developed “nausea, vomiting, pretty bad headaches,” his father, Travis, told News4Jax.

Travis and Tanner’s mother, Alicia Whitehill, took their son to a local medical center, where doctors diagnosed him with a sore throat. But the parents knew that Tanner had more than that.

“I got pretty irate. [Alicia] was irate at this point," Travis said. “I said, ‘You know what? Unhook him. Do whatever you need to do. We will transport him ourselves. I’m standing at the front door. Come outside. We will take him where we have to go.’ ”

They instead took Tanner to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where they learned he had contracted naegleria fowleri, a parasite more commonly referred to as brain-eating amoeba. The parasite is often found in warm freshwater like lakes or contaminated pools, and can enter the brain through the nose and cause a rare and typically incurable brain infection.

“They said, ‘We’re sorry to tell you this, but your son does not have bacterial meningitis. He has a parasitic amoeba, and there is no cure,’ ” Travis said.

Doctors put Tanner on life support, but by Aug. 2, he had no brain activity. Travis and Alicia made the difficult decision to take him off life support, and Tanner died later that day.

Travis and Alicia say that Tanner was a healthy and active kid before getting sick.

“He was very active. He loved the outdoors. He loves hunting, fishing,” Alicia said.

“He was just somebody you always wanted to be around,” Travis added.

The parents are now warning others to take precautions when going in warm freshwater in the later summer months.

“People need to be aware from July to the latter part of September, with the hot waters, that this amoeba, it can come up your nose,” Travis said. “It can be diving. It can be swimming, water sports, skiing, things like that.”

They’re also suggesting that swimming facilities put up warning signs “so parents are aware.”

“I think would be a great way to prevent this from possibly happening to another family in the future,” Travis said. “Maybe they weren’t thinking about it because I can sure tell you we weren’t. We grew up swimming in ponds and creeks and stuff like that.”