'Send your prayers': Girl in medically-induced coma after contracting brain-eating amoeba infection

Lily Mae Avant / Family
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FORT WORTH, Texas — A 10-year-old girl is now fighting to live at a hospital in Fort Worth after she contracted a brain-eating amoeba while swimming near her Central Texas home.

Lily Mae Avant was flown to Cook Children's Medical Center on Tuesday after her family said she started to get a headache, had a fever and became incoherent.

Avant is now in a medically-induced coma.

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Doctors said she contracted a Naegleria fowleri, a single-celled living organism commonly found in warm freshwater that infects humans.

According to The Centers for Disease Control, people get infected when water containing Naegleria fowleri enters through the nose.

The amoeba travels to the brain where it destroys brain tissue. The fatality rate when contracting such an amoeba is more than 97%, according to the CDC.

Since 1962, only four people out of 145 infected in the U.S. have survived.

On Friday night, Lily's stepfather, John Crawson, told WFAA that he's praying his daughter will be the fifth survivor.

"If you're listening, send your prayers," he said. "And just know, that this can happen."

"She's a fighter," he said. "And she's stronger than anyone I know."

A Normal Swim

Avant's family said that the 10-year-old girl started to act strangely after swimming in the Brazos River that winds behind her home in Whitney, which is just outside of Waco.

Avant was celebrating Labor Day weekend with family when she went swimming in the river, something she's done many times, according to cousin Wendy Scott.

"The water is in Lily's backyard," Scott said. "She has swum in there day in, day out. The day she was in there, we had 40 people in there with her."

When Avant arrived to Cook Children's, she was given an amoeba-fighting pill called Miltefosine.

It's a pill that wouldn't have been available at the hospital if it weren't for Julie and Jeremy Lewis, of Midlothian.

"Our mission is coming to fruition, and we're here for Lily," said Julie Lewis.

Julie and her husband lost their son, Kyle, to a brain-eating amoeba in 2010.

After his death, the Lewis family pushed for Miltefosine to be made available in numerous hospitals. The drug gives victims a chance of surviving if it's administered quickly.

Miltefosine wasn't available for Kyle, but in 2016, his parents' dream became a reality: giving other patients the chance he never got.

'Within a year, it was in 20-something hospitals," Jeremy said. "[Cook Children's] was the first hospital in the nation to have it. We wanted it here because Kyle was here."

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, says amoebas are common, but the infections are not. There are typically zero to one case a year. Lily's case is the first in the state this year.

If you do swim in freshwater, the state recommends holding your nose, using nose clips and avoiding putting your head underwater.

"It's the thing you read about that doesn't happen to you, until it happens to you," said Loni Yadon, Lily's aunt.

The Power of Prayer

Because Avant's family believes that she'll be the fifth survivor of the deadly infection, they spent five minutes together praying outside the 10-year-old's hospital room Friday night.

Dozens of family members were there, embracing Crawson and his wife.

The setting was an emotional one, and there were similar scenes across Central Texas.

Several high school football teams honored Avant before their games Friday night, per Crawson. A number of Central Texans are also taking photos and holding up the number 5, too.

All these posts are on the Facebook page #Lily Strong.

It's where Crawson finds hope, support, and reinforced belief that his daughter will make it through.

"It's been hard, especially when you're supposed to be everyone's rock, but thank God I have so much support," Crawson said.

Lily has already defied the odds, surviving for six days with the infection.

Family and friends remain by her side, waiting for her to hug them again.