A 7-year-old Mansfield boy died after he contracted a rare infection from an amoeba while swimming in a Texas river.
Kyle Lewis died within four days of swimming in the Paluxy River near Glen Rose.
"It's devastating," said his father, Jeremy Lewis. "That's your son. That's your best friend. It's eye-opening as a parent to know that the smallest thing can take your son so quickly."
Doctors said the boy contracted an infection from Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that thrives in warm, stagnant water.
"You develop signs of meningitis and signs of encephalitis, and then you get sicker very quickly," said Dr. Donald Murphey, the medical director of infectious diseases at Fort Worth's Cook Children's Medical Center. "There is treatment for it, but the treatment does not work very well."
Kyle and his family took a dip in the river while visiting the Dinosaur Valley State Park during a family vacation a week ago. But Kyle began to complain of a severe headache just hours after the swim.
"It started off as an extreme headache, then it went to a high fever and then into vomiting," Lewis said.
On Thursday, the family was on their way to Cook Children's Hospital. Doctors initially thought it was bacterial meningitis, but the diagnosis turned out to be much worse: primary amebic meningoencephalitis, an infection of the nervous system that's almost always fatal.
"In a matter of eight to 10 hours, it turns into Naegleria, and that's the death sentence, is Naegleria," Lewis said.
According the Centers for Disease Control, the amoeba is found in warm stagnant or low-current waters, including rivers, lakes, ponds and streams. The amoeba enters through the nose and makes it way to the spinal cord. Then it destroys brain tissue.
By Sunday, there wasn't anything doctors could do to save Kyle.
"He ultimately passed at 5:30 a.m., I think when is when he actually left," Lewis said. "They didn't know until at least four o'clock that morning what it was. There's nothing you can do."
The CDC has recorded only 128 cases from 1937 to 2010. Ten happened in Texas from 2000 to 2010.
"The health department is aware of it, and we'll be watching to see if there's any other cases," Murphey said. "Hopefully, there won't be, because this is a bad disease."
Tarrant County Public Health and Cook Children's Medical Center are warning swimmers to take precautions.
"You shouldn't be swimming in warm, fresh water," Murphey said. "It's been a little dryer, it's been definitely warmer, and that's when you see the number of amoeba in fresh water blossom. If you're going to go swimming in creeks or lakes, make sure that the water is cool and that the water is flowing."
TPCH advises against swimming in stagnant water, and suggests holding your nose or using nose clips when skiing, jet skiing or jumping into any water.
Lewis said he takes comfort in knowing his son's last days were spent on a joy-filled summer vacation with the rest of the family.
"I'd go take that vacation that we had with our family, because that was priceless," he said. "That week was incredible. It happened for a reason. I truly believe that we went there for this purpose, to make sure that this was the last thing that was engraved in all our minds, was that vacation."
Lewis coached Kyle's baseball team in the Mansfield Youth Baseball Association and said he plans to return to coaching. The MYBA is creating a memorial fund in his son's name.
He said he will continue to vacation in rivers and lakes with his family, including his 10-year-old daughter.
"You can't encapsulize your kids, because then you're teaching them to live scared, live in fear -- and you can't do that, because if there's anything that Kyle taught us all is, when you're here, you live. Man, you live," Lewis said.
A memorial service will held for Kyle at Rush Creek Baptist Church at 2350 SW Green Oaks Blvd. in Arlington.