Grieving Parents Warn Swimmers Of Brain-Eating Virus When Daughter Dies One Day After Lake Dip

by Kim Wong-Shing
Kim Wong-Shing is a staff writer at LittleThings. Her work spans beauty, wellness, pop culture, identity, food, and other topics. She is a contributing writer at NaturallyCurly, and her work has also appeared in HelloGiggles, Lifehacker, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and other outlets. She grew up in Philadelphia, attended Brown University, and is now based in New Orleans.

You can now add “brain-eating amoeba” to your list of terrifying things that can happen while you swim.

An Oklahoma family is working to spread awareness about the danger, three years after brain-eating amoebas caused their daughter’s death.

Elizabeth Knight, 24, went swimming in Lake Murray one day in 2015. One day later, she began developing symptoms like “severe headaches, migraines,” said her father, Mike McKown. Elizabeth headed to the ER, where doctors treated her for migraines. But things only got worse from there.

Soon, Elizabeth “had difficulty walking, talking.” She developed nausea, vomiting, and fever.

The young woman headed back to the hospital. But by the time she was correctly diagnosed with the deadly amoeba, it was too late.

“She had no brain activity,” Elizabeth’s mom, Alonie McKown, said.

Infections of brain-eating amoebas have a 98% to 99% mortality rate. The good news is that an infection is treatable, but it has to be caught early. Unfortunately, many health professionals aren’t educated about Naegleria fowleri, the deadly bacteria in question. That’s why the McKowns are working to raise awareness.

“We just don’t want other families to have to learn what it’s like to live without their child,” Mike said.

The bacteria are most common in warm fresh water, like Lake Murray. Since the bacteria enter through the nose, it’s a good idea to wear nose clips to prevent water from going up your nose.

The McKowns themselves work in the medical field, but they’d never heard of this little-known danger until their daughter died.

“It actually works its way up through your nasal cavity to your brain and starts to deteriorate the brain tissue,” Alonie explained.

And you thought sharks were your biggest problem…

Footage provided by KFOR Oklahoma City.

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