Family's plea: Be aware of amoeba dangers

Image 1 of 3

Philip Gompf was a curious 10-year-old who dreamed of becoming a scientist.  But in 2009, he took a trip to a Polk County lake that changed his family's lives forever.

After spending the day wakeboarding on Lake Ariette in Auburndale, Philip complained of a headache as he went to bed.

"The next morning when my husband went to check on him, he was very hard to wake up," recalled Dr. Sandra Gompf, Philip's mother.

They took Philip to the hospital and doctors performed a spinal tap right away. It confirmed that he had meningitis.

Both of Philip's parents are doctors themselves, and they knew the situation was serious. He didn't respond to medication and started to hallucinate. Within four days, Philip was brain-dead.

A month later, the cause of Philip's death was discovered. While wakeboarding, tiny organisms called amoebas traveled up his nose and into his brain. The amoeba ate the cells that live there.

"It was shocking, certainly, but in a way that had been in the back of my mind," his mom continued.

It turns out that no good tests exist to detect these amoebas. Even when they are found and treated, amoeba meningitis is 99-percent fatal.

"It's difficult to get funding for a disease that people like to call rare. It's a misnomer, really, because there are so many of these amoeba in the water that undoubtedly people are getting exposed," offered Dr. Dennis Kyle with the USF College of Public Health.

Dr. Kyle's team recently received a grant from the National Institute of Health to study these amoebas and try to find new drugs to fight them. The grant could total up to $1.7 million over the next five years.

Meanwhile, Sandra Gompf is asking people to sign an online petition to get the Center for Disease Control to make the disease reportable. It's a big step towards getting more funding for teams like Dr. Kyle's.