On the first anniversary of her death, the family of Lauren Seitz is filing a lawsuit against a North Carolina waterpark contaminated by traces of a brain-eating amoeba.
The 18-year old woman died on June 19, 2016, after being exposed to Naegleria fowleri, commonly referred to as the ‘brain-eating amoeba.’
Seitz’s parents claim the US National Whitewater Center and its developer, Recreation Engineering and Planning, Inc., ‘were grossly negligent and should be held accountable’ for causing their daughter’s death.
CNN recounts how Seitz, an Ohian, was embarking on a music tour with 40 members of the Church of the Messiah. Heading south, the group stopped at the US National Whitewater Center to relax and seek respite from the summertime heat.
While whitewater rafting with her friends, Seitz’s raft overturned, plunging her into the water.
She returned to Ohio shortly afterward, but quickly fell ill. Hospitalization followed, and she was diagnosed with infection by Naegleria fowleri.
Within two weeks of visiting the waterpark, Seitz was dead.
Naegleria fowleri is found in warm freshwater environments and soil, and can also grow in pipes.
The amoeba can infect humans by entering the body through the nose and traveling to the brain.
Symptoms of infection include confusion, seizures, and, critically, meningoencephalitis – a profound inflammation of the brain and its surrounding tissue.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services noted that Seitz’s “only known underwater exposure was believed to be while riding in a raft with several others that overturned at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.”
A review and investigation by the Center for Disease Control revealed that samples of water taken from the waterpark’s sites tested positive for the presence of Naegleria fowleri.
“Our findings here are significant,” said Dr. Jennifer Cope, an infectious disease specialist working with the CDC. “We saw multiple positive samples at levels we’ve not previously seen in environmental samples.”
Cope suggested the amoeba was able to grow in abundance due to an abundance of dirt and debris in the waterpark’s waters.
“Lauren and other visitors had a higher likelihood of encountering Naegleria fowleri in the unregulated waters of the U.S. National Whitewater Center than they did by simply rafting in the nearby Catawba River,” claims the lawsuit.
The U.S. National Whitewater Center’s website boasts that it hosts the world’s largest manmade rapids river – an artificial facility Seitz’s parents say wasn’t properly chlorinated, maintained, or cleaned. The lawsuit alleges the park’s employees weren’t properly trained in respect to regulating the facility, amounting to a “conscious disregard for the safety of its visitors, including Lauren.”
The lawsuit, per CNN, also says the water was too shallow and the filtration system inefficient – factors which may have combined to provide an ideal habitat for a deadly, brain-eating amoeba.