Star student Megan Ebenroth, 17, tragically died last month after contracting a rare, brain-eating amoeba while swimming in Georgia.
The death was reported last month, but the victim’s identity wasn’t confirmed until now.
“I’m still in shock,” the teen’s mother Chrissy Ebenroth told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution while discussing the “extraordinary” pupil’s passing. “But I can’t keep silent about her.”
Megan and several friends had reportedly gone swimming on July 11 in a lake near her home in Dearing, McDuffie County.
The high schooler had wanted to enjoy the last few weeks of summer before starting her senior year.
Four days later, Megan awoke with a severe headache, prompting her mother to drive her to the hospital.
Doctors diagnosed the youth with sinusitis, prescribed her an antibiotic and sent her home.
Unfortunately, the teen’s symptoms continued to worsen over the week as she began to experience fever, migraines and a loss of balance, WLTX reported.
“It was all such a blur because her mental state changed so drastically,” said Chrissy.
Left with little other recourse, the distraught parent drove her daughter to the hospital, where she was immediately intubated and placed into a medically-induced coma.
At one point, doctors opened up the patient’s skull to relieve the swelling on her brain.
“The stage we were at was not one Megan could come back from,” lamented her crestfallen mother, who still had no idea what was causing her daughter’s symptoms.
It was not until that Friday, July 21 that doctors suggested that her complications were caused by an infection of naegleria fowleri, the now-notorious brain-eating amoeba that swims up people’s noses and colonizes their brains.
Specifically, it infects victims with primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a catastrophic condition that causes the destruction of brain tissue and the swelling of the brain, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although found worldwide, the microscopic monster predominantly resides in warm freshwater, such as lakes and rivers and hot springs, and can even inhabit poorly-maintained swimming pools.
Naegleria fowleri cannot survive in salt water and cannot spread from one person to another.
Unfortunately, the prognosis is not good for victims of this amoebic infection, which is reportedly fatal 97% of the time.
As was the case with Megan, symptoms — which can begin between 1 and 12 days following infection — initially entail severe headache, fever, nausea and vomiting before progressing to a stiff neck, seizures, and coma.
Death usually occurs within five days.
A day after getting diagnosed, Megan tragically passed away — 11 days after initially contracting the parasite.
Paul Johnson, the coroner for McDuffie County, later confirmed that the HS senior had died from the rare brain infection, marking Georgia’s sixth amoeba-related fatality since 1962.
State health officials neglected to disclose the location of the lake for fear of insinuating that that’s the only body of water where the parasite could be residing.
“It just doesn’t feel real,” Chrissy Ebenroth said while discussing her daughter’s passing. “It seems like she’s going to walk into my house at any moment. It just doesn’t feel like this has happened to us.”
This marked a tragic end for Megan, who is remembered by friends and family as a highly-motivated student with big dreams and a vibrant personality.
Ever since sixth grade, Megan dreamed of going to the University of Georgia, and she worked hard to achieve her goal by making straight As and becoming president of the Beta Club and vice president of the Spanish Club.
The studious scholar had recently joined her high school tennis team to help round out her resume.
Megan’s mom Chrissy described herself and her daughter as “best friends.”
She explained, “She would tell people I was her best friend, and I would say ‘Honey, I can’t be your best friend’ and about three weeks ago, she said ‘come on, Mom, you know I’m your best friend, and I said, ‘Yes baby, you are.’”
The teen’s funeral was held on July 26 at the family’s church, Fort Creek Baptist Church, in Dearing, Georgia.
In light of the tragedy, Chrissy hopes to spread awareness of the disease, which is often not diagnosed until it’s too late.
“Going forward, I want that to be one of my main focuses,” the determined guardian declared, “to find a way to diagnose this earlier.”
Part of the problem is that only a few labs in the US offer the specific tests capable of detecting the microbe.
Not to mention that it’s often mistaken for viral meningitis, a more common disease that has similar symptoms but is far more curable.
Of the 157 known amoeba infectees in the US from 1962-2022, only four people have survived.
Unfortunately, N. Fowleri cases could see a major uptick in the future because the microbe could be spreading due to climate change.
Scientists claim that warming temperatures are creating ideal conditions for the amoeba to increasingly thrive in bodies of water across the northern US.