Sep 16

After hearing about a young Minnesota girl who died last month after swimming in a lake, the LaMeyer family knows in their hearts that’s how their little girl also died.

Last month, Annie Bahneman, 7, died after fighting for three days against a very rare infection.

Hailee LaMeyer died two years ago, but her parents and even the Minnesota Department of Health never knew why.

It was the end of the summer 2008. Fawn Lake was shallow and warm and Hailee begged her mother to let her go swimming with a friend.

“She was a little fish, a water bug, she loved to be in the lake,” said Heidi LaMeyer.

Two days later, Hailee got headaches and fever. Three days later, the hallucinations and vomiting started. Within five days, Hailee had died.

The LaMeyers were told Hailee had meningoencephalitis, a brain infection that leads to the destruction of brain tissue. They just weren’t sure where it might have come from.

“It was a really ugly time, difficult time to be grieving and be so scared and not have an answer,” LaMeyer said.

For two years, the LaMeyer family searched and searched for answers. Hailee’s case had been referred to the Minnesota Department of Health’s Unexplained Critical Illness and Death Project.

The LaMeyers had always suspected something in the lake caused Hailee to get sick, but they could never prove it. Then, Heidi LaMeyer, a nurse, read a press release from the Department of Health three weeks ago. It said a young girl from Stillwater had just died from amebic meningoencephalitis. An amoeba had gotten into Annie Bahneman’s nose and caused the very rare, but severe brain infection.

Annie’s symptoms were exactly the same as Hailee’s.

“We heard about Annie Bahneman and we knew. That minute, we knew,” LaMeyer said.

Heidi called the Health Department the next day. They told her they’d already pulled Hailee’s file. Hailee had tested negative for amebic meningoencephalitis, but that still didn’t put the case to rest.

“In this setting, we’ll never know for sure exactly what was the cause,” said Dr. Aaron DeVries, a medical epidemiologist and the head of the Health Department’s Unexplained Critical Illness and Death Project.

DeVries said the rare test for amebic meningoencephalitis isn’t fool-proof, especially when the specimens are less than ideal, like Hailee’s.

“Could it have been other things, it’s possible, but it was very similar to past cases,” he said.

For the LaMeyers, it’s finally an answer. It’s also a call to make other people aware the infection exists.

“We worry about drowning, not about an amoeba in our water,” said LaMeyer. “Just to be careful is all, not to panic, don’t stop enjoying. If Hailee were here, she’d be swimming in the lake safely.”

The Department of Health said this infection is very rare, with just more than 100 documented cases in the past few years. Generally, it happens to children because they are more likely to be in the water.

If people are especially worried, they might want to consider noseplugs or avoiding shallow warm lakes. This amoeba doesn’t live in chlorinated pools or saltwater.

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Tags: Lake , Lake Amoeba

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