One year after her death, Lauren Seitz’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a North Carolina water park in which Lauren picked up a brain-eating amoeba that took her life.
The 18-year-old girl died June 19, 2016, after she was exposed to Naegleria fowleri, an amoeba that causes a rare deadly brain infection. The lawsuit claims that the water park, called US National Whitewater Center, and its builder, Recreation Engineering and Planning Inc., were highly negligent and reckless and need to be held accountable for what happened to Lauren.
Teen who died at U.S. National Whitewater Center picked up ameba while rafting at the center
Lauren, who had recently graduated from high school in Westerville, Ohio, went to the US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, as she traveled through the country on a music tour with other 40 members of the Church of Messiah.
According to the water park’s Facebook page, the center offers outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting, zip lines, and biking. Lauren was whitewater rafting with her friends when the raft overturned, exposing her nose and face to the water, alleges the lawsuit.
She went back to her hometown a couple of days later but became ill. She was hospitalized in Ohio and doctors diagnosed her with an infection caused by Naegleria fowleri. However, the doctors weren’t able to help her, and she died 11 days after her trip to the water park.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that the amoeba is commonly found in warm freshwater and soil, and that it also grows in pipes but not in salt waters like oceans. Once it enters through the nose, it heads to the brain, causing swelling and death. Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, seizures, and hallucinations.
Lawsuit alleges the water park failed to chlorinate and maintain its waters
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said at the time that Lauren’s only known underwater exposure was believed to be when she rode a raft with several others that overturned at Charlotte’s water park.
The CDC also said that water samples taken from the center shortly after her death tested positive for the Naegleria fowleri amoeba.
“Our findings here are significant,” said at the time Dr. Jennifer Cope, an infectious disease physician at the CDC, according to CNN. “We saw multiple positive samples at levels we’ve not previously seen in environmental samples.”
Cope noted that the amoeba was probably able to grow to such concentrations due to the amount of dirt and debris in the water, which affected the effectiveness of the sanitation process.
The whitewater center closed for several weeks to work alongside health officials after the teen’s death.
“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,” says the lawsuit, according to CNN.
The lawsuit also alleges that the water park failed to properly chlorinate and maintain its water or train its employees to regulate the facilities correctly. The lawsuit added that the center displayed a “conscious disregard for the safety of its visitors, including Lauren.”