A Central Texas girl is battling a rare infection at a Fort Worth hospital after her family says she contracted a brain-eating amoeba.
Ten-year-old Lily Avant of Whitney, Texas is described by her family as "sassy" and a "tomboy."
"We hope we got to her in time," her father John Crawson said. "She is a fighter. She is stronger than anybody I know."
Crawson spoke at a prayer vigil Friday evening outside Cook Children's Medical Center.
Avant is in a medically-induced coma while doctors treat swelling in her brain, her family said.
"She has been a fighter. She came into this world fighting," her aunt Loni Yadon said. "She likes to put on a show. She likes the attention."
Avant lives near the Brazos River and was swimming with dozens of others over Labor Day weekend, her family said. It wasn't until this past Sunday when she got a fever.
Her mother's cousin Wendy Scott said she saw a doctor that night.
"They got it checked out. There were several viruses going around the school. It was assumed it's a virus because of the symptoms are exactly the same, so she was sent home," Scott said. "She was brought into the emergency room on Tuesday when she woke up unresponsive. She was eyes open, she were there, but she wasn't speaking. Nothing."
Avant was eventually flown to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth where she remains on Friday. Her family said doctors confirmed Avant contracted Naegleria Fowleri – commonly referred to as "the brain-eating amoeba or ameba."
According to the CDC, it is known to cause a brain infection known as Primary Amebic Meningoecephalitis or PAM. The ameba is typically found in warm freshwater and soil, usually infecting people when contaminated water enters the body through the nose.
Once it enters the nose, it travels to the brain where it causes PAM.
It is almost always fatal, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. In total, there are five documented cases of survival – four in the U.S. alone.
Avant's family says they're hopeful she will be the fifth surviving U.S. case. The CDC reports those who are infected die one to 18 days after symptoms begin, the median being five days.
"Today is day six. Day six day is a miracle," Scott said, referring to the number of days since Avant's first symptoms. "God's strength and the community and all the prayers from the Facebook #LilyStrong, we're are doing great. We are very, very positive. We know God is control, he is the ultimate physician."
The Texas Department of State Health Services says while the ameba itself is common, the infection is extremely rare.
"We average less than one per year in Texas. However, it is extremely serious and almost always fatal. Since it's so rare, we don't know why a few people get sick while millions who swim in natural bodies of water don't," an agency spokesperson explained. "Because the organism is common in lakes and river, we don't recommend people specifically avoid bodies of water where people have contracted the illness."
Through Avant's medical battle, her family says they've found a new friendship through Jeremy and Julie Lewis. They lost their son Kyle to PAM in 2010 when he was just 7 years old.
"It is about how fast you can get your child to the doctors. It is about mothers who can sit there and say, "my child has this" and a doctor doesn’t discount what she’s saying," Jeremy Lewis said.
Following their son's death, Lewis created the Kyle Lewis Amoeba Awareness Foundation with the goal of informing families of the potential danger of Naegleria Fowleri. Their hope is to save lives and heartache through education and awareness, the family says.