Driggers family uses tragedy to raise awareness of rare, deadly amoeba found in Lake Marion
by Staff Reports | July 19, 2014 10:37 am
Last Updated: July 18, 2014 at 8:41 pm
Two years ago, during the week of Fourth of July, Preston Blake Driggers was enjoying time with his parents and two older sisters on Lake Marion.
They were swimming, tubing and jumping from piers in the Clarendon County part of the lake.
A week later, 8-year-old Blake was in the hospital. Two days after being admitted he was on life support.
He died July 17, 2012, after an infection with naegleria fowleri, a rare amoeba found in freshwater lakes and non-chlorinated swimming pools. His parents, Gingi and Walt, now campaign to make others aware of the risks involved with the deadly one-celled organism.
“We were just having a typical day at the lake with family,” Gingi Driggers said. “Blake jumped off the dock and got water up his nose. Maybe a week-and-a-half later he was gone.”
Driggers said her son started exhibiting symptoms just three days before his death.
“He’d went to Myrtle Beach with a friend on July 13, 2012, for the night, and they ate at a seafood buffet,” she said. “When he started throwing up the afternoon of July 14, I just thought he maybe overate or had a stomach bug.”
But when her son couldn’t keep down over-the-counter medications Driggers was trying to give him for his fever, due to constantly throwing up, she and her husband knew it was time to take him to the hospital.
“Sunday morning (July 15), we were in the emergency room at Tuomey (Regional Medical Center),” she said. “By that afternoon, we were at Palmetto Children’s Hospital in Columbia.”
Doctors wanted to perform a CT scan, but Blake couldn’t ingest the contrast. When doctors finally performed the test, they found Blake’s brain was swelling.
“They were treating him for meningitis,” Driggers said. “But he just kept getting worse. By that night, he wasn’t really talking anymore, and he was agitated and trying to pull tubes out. When he would communicate, it was just noises.”
By July 16, the boy’s doctors were out of ideas. Blake continued to get worse. His eyes had crossed completely, providing evidence of neurological damage. And pressure was still building in the boy’s brain.
“We were very scared and confused,” Driggers said. “We’d never seen anything like this before, and it seemed like the doctor’s hadn’t either. We knew that God was in control, so we stayed focused on that to get through it.”
That morning, Blake stopped breathing and was put on a ventilator and life support.
“They began thinking it might be this amoeba, and they have to do a spinal tap to diagnose it,” Driggers said. “His fluid was so cloudy that they didn’t see it at first. It wasn’t until another doctor went back and looked. It was probably that Tuesday morning (July 17) when they realized what it was. At that point, there wasn’t anything they could do.”
Blake’s brain activity had flat-lined, his mom said.
“In a matter of three days, our son went from an active little boy to having no brain activity,” Driggers said. “This amoeba has to be caught very fast.”
Driggers said she and her husband get through each day since their son’s passing by “staying focused on Christ.”
“I never asked why,” she said. “My husband and I, both of us said we were not going to sit here and try to guess why things happen. God doesn’t make mistakes. His ways aren’t our ways. It was allowed for a reason, and something good will come out of it.”
For her part, Driggers tries to warn other lake-goers about the amoeba, hoping that she can save them from the heartache her family endured.
“It’s important for us to alert other families, so they can keep their children and themselves protected,” she said.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Centers for Disease Control warn that naegleria fowleri infects by entering the body through the nose.
“Once the amoeba enters the brain, it causes a usually fatal infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM),” says the CDC website.
“It’s in our lakes and freshwater all the time,” Driggers said. “And it’s something that is 100 percent preventable.”
Driggers advises anyone visiting the lake to wear nose plugs.
“That will prevent it 100 percent,” she said. “You can drink lake water all day and never get it. It has to go through the nose to enter the nerves and then enter the brain.”
Those who do get water up the nose will see symptoms between one and seven days, DHEC warns.
Driggers said symptoms include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting, confusion, a stiff neck and lack of attention to people and surroundings.
“If you get water up your nose, and you have any of these symptoms, you should get to a doctor immediately,” she said. “We want people going to the lake to have fun. We don’t want to discourage them going to the lake. We just want them to be safe.”
Driggers said nose plugs can sometimes be hard to find in stores, so she and her family give them out for free. You can contact them through their website, rememberblake.com