Parents: Putnam County boy, 13, dies from brain-eating amoeba

Tanner Wall was swimming in lake days before sickness

Tanner Wall was swimming in lake days before sickness.

PALATKA, Fla. – The parents of a 13-year-old boy who died after a sudden illness are hoping to make a difference after their son’s tragedy.

Tanner Lake Wall, of Palatka, died Aug. 2 after he got sick from a brain-eating amoeba while on vacation at a North Florida campground, his loved ones claim.

Tanner Wall’s parents said he was on a family vacation at a campground with a water park and lake days before he got sick.

News4Jax is not naming the location because the death has not been positively traced to the property, which is located in North Central Florida.

“He was just somebody you always wanted to be around,” Travis Wall said of his son, who had just turned 13.

“He was very active. He loved the outdoors. He loves hunting, fishing,” said a teary-eyed Alicia Whitehill, his mother.

They said he got sick days after two days of swimming with friends and family.

Tanner Wall (Special to WJXT)

“Nauseau, vomiting, pretty bad headaches,” his father said of the initial symptoms. He said his son also had a stiff neck.

Tanner Wall’s parents took him to Putnam Community Medical Center, where they said he was diagnosed with strep throat. But his mother and father felt it was worse than that.

“Finally, I got pretty irate. She was irate at this point," Travis Wall 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 drove him to UF Health in Gainesville, where he was put on a ventilator as doctors made a startling diagnosis.

“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 Wall told News4Jax.

Naegleria fowleri, commonly referred to as the “brain-eating amoeba” or “brain-eating ameba,” can cause an infection to the brain called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).

Their son had no brain activity and on Aug. 2, and hey decided to take him off life support.

Amoebas are commonly found in warm fresh water, like lakes, rivers and springs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They can cause a rare and devastating infection if contaminated water goes up someone’s nose and into the brain.

According to the CDC, symptoms start as severe frontal headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, and then as it progresses, stiff neck, seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations and coma.

Naegleria fowleri (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

“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. It can be diving. It can be swimming, water sports, skiing, things like that,” Travis Wall said.

Tanner Wall’s parents hope their son’s tragedy can bring awareness to others to know the risks of warm water and to recognize the symptoms before it’s too late.

“So parents are aware. Maybe they weren’t thinking about it because I can sure tell you we weren’t,” Travis Wall said. “We grew up swimming in ponds and creeks and stuff like that.”

They want signs up, warning people about the dangers in warm waters, especially in the summertime. News4Jax reached out to the campground where Tanner Wall visited before his sickness. The manager said she was unaware of anything coming from there and a lot of people had been through the park before hanging up the phone.

A spokesman for Putnam Community Medical Center sent News4Jax the following statement on Tuesday:

“The passing of a loved one is tragic and our condolences are with the family. Our attending physician advised the family that further assessments were needed; however, the recommendations were declined and the family left the facility before a diagnosis was possible. Due to privacy laws, we are unable to discuss further details of the matter.”

Tanner Wall’s family said they are considering hiring a lawyer to look into their son’s death.

For more info on the illness, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, visit the CDC’s page.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.