Case of Florida teen offers hope in fighting brain-eating amoeba

Case of Florida teen offers hope in fighting brain-eating amoeba

ORLANDO, FL (WCSC) - The case of a Florida teen who survived the so-called brain eating amoeba could change the way people see the infection that is most often considered fatal.

That's the view of Todd MacLaughlan, the CEO of the drug company that delivered the drug, miltefosine, to the Orlando hospital where the teen was treated.

MacLaughlan said having the drug administered as quickly as possible can mean the difference between life and death for patients with Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis, or PAM.

He said it is his goal to have the drug in major medical centers across the country. 

MacLaughlan is offering the drug to hospitals on a consignment basis, where hospitals keep miltefosine in the pharmacy, but don't pay for the drug unless it is used to treat a patient.  "Ninety-five percent of places won't use it, but I want it to be of benefit and used right away if it is needed," said MacLaughlan.

Efforts by amoeba awareness groups may have also helped the most recent case of survival. MacLaughlan credits the teen's mother for recognizing the symptoms and getting her son to the hospital.

Additionally, he said the hospital lab technician had attended a training course on the amoeba, and spotted amoeba movement.

The training course had been part of a summit presented by the Jordan Smelski Foundation, established by the parents of an 11-year-old boy who died in 2014 of PAM after swimming in hot springs.

MacLaughlan said miltefosine is manufactured in Germany, processed further in the United States and is shipped from Indiana. He said his company is licensed to store some products in Florida, and in the most recent case, when the company got the call, the drug was delivered to the hospital within thirty minutes.

"It makes me feel good to see a life saved, making sure a family doesn't have to go through a loss," MacLaughlan said. "My wife passed away a year and a half ago, and it's grief you don't want anyone else to go through," he continued.

"It's not about money," he said.

The CEO said as many as five patients have survived the 136 documented cases of the amoeba. "Of those, three cases have all used our drug," MacLaughlan said.

Five hospitals in the country are now keeping the drug on hand, according to MacLaughlan. He said they are in Fort Worth and Dallas, Texas, Columbia, South Carolina and Tampa, Florida.

An agreement with the Medical University of South Carolina to stock the drug here in Charleston has not been finalized. MacLaughlan recently sent miltefosine by courier on a six-hour late night drive from Orlando, Florida, to MUSC in Charleston, to treat an 11-year-old South Carolina girl suffering from PAM. She did not survive.

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