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South Florida teenager who survived brain-eating amoeba to be featured in health documentary

South Florida Sun Sentinel - 7/20/2018

July 20--After swimming in Broward, the Weston teenager began developing some unusual symptoms. Splitting headaches, fever, sensitivity to light.

What Sebastian DeLeon and his family didn't known until after he was taken to the emergency room was that he had contracted a rare and deadly brain-eating amoeba.

His story of survival will be featured in the season premiere of the HLN documentary series "Something's Killing Me with BD Wong" 8 p.m on Sunday.

The six-episode series produced by CNN's development team explores medical mysteries and features doctors and scientists trying to save patients' lives.

DeLeon's segment in the episode "Tiny Monsters" will focus on how he, at the age of 16, was infected with the water-born, brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri in 2016 after swimming in a body of water on a private property in Broward County.

Two days later, during a vacation with his family in Orlando, he had a severe enough headache that his parents, Rafael DeLeon and Brunilda Gonzalez, took him to the emergency room.

"I remember that he would tell me 'Mom, can you please take my brain out because I feel like it's going to explode,'" she recalls in the documentary.

Doctors initially thought he had viral meningitis, but after conducting a spinal tap, they learned it was the brain-eating amoeba which travels through the nose and roots itself into brain cells.

At the time, his doctors described his survival as a miracle and his case was one of more than 138 cases of the amoeba that kills 97% of those who are infected with it.

DeLeon shared his story two years ago during the second annual Amoeba Summit at Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando.

The summit was launched by Steve and Shelly Smelski whose 11-year-old son, Jordan, died of the same fresh water-born amoeba in 2014. The Smelskis are also featured in the HLN episode about DeLeon.

"If it happens to you, it stays with you for the rest of your life," DeLeon says in the documentary.

"There's not a day I don't think about it."


(c)2018 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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