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Family Tragedy Behind Amoeba Awareness Campaign

It's summertime, and to Sandra Gompf, that means 'amoeba season'. 

Seven years ago, her 10-year old son Philip went swimming in a lake in Auburndale. About a week later, he died from a brain-eating amoeba that lives in freshwater and enters the body when water is forced up the nose.

Both of Philip's parents are doctors. And since their son's death, they've been educating the public -- including posting a series of billboards along Interstate 4 through August. Sandra Gompf recently spoke with WUSF News about her son, and the awareness campaign. 

The Amoeba Season campaign focuses on when the brain-eating amoeba is most prominent, during the summer months of May through August.

It includes the billboards, two videos and a petitionto change the status of the condition of what killed Philip -- Amoebic Meningoencephalitis -- to the  National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System. 

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Credit Credit Amoeba Season (Facebook)
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

  Gompf said the campaign is most about prevention. If you're going to swim in fresh, unchlorinated bodies of water -- such as lakes, ponds, drainage ditches and hot springs -- she said to try to keep your head above water. If you can't do that, wear nose clips. 

"It is 100 percent preventable," she said. 

The amoeba also has been found in city and well water, so if you use a netty pot, be sure to use distilled water or boil it, she said.
On a recent Facebook post, Philip's parents wrote that they "die a little every summer" when they hear cases about people dying from the amoeba. 

"We couldn't save our son," Gompf said. "But you can save yours."

Quincy J. Walters is a junior at USF, majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. His interest in journalism spurred from the desire to convey compelling narratives. He has written for USF’s student paper, The Oracle and is currently the videographer for Creative Pinellas. If he’s not listening to NPR, he’s probably listening to Randy Newman.