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AR Boy Battles Rare Eye Amoeba

Doctors are working to save a 7-year-old's eye after a rare eye infection ruins his sight in one eye.
LITTLE ROCK, AR -- Community members are rallying around an Arkansas boy battling a rare amoeba that's robbing him of his sight.

After dealing with an irritated eye for months, Wednesday, Justin Ross was back at Baptist Hospital Eye Clinic in Dr. Berry's office. It was a regular checkup for a rare diagnosis.

"Back in September, I noticed he had a typical pink eye. It looked like a typical virus you get but it wasn't getting any better," says Justin's mom.

After two months of fighting what seemed to be pink eye on steroids his family learned little living organisms were eating away at his eye.

"The acanthamoeba are free-living one-celled organisms. They are little animals, not bacteria," explains Ophthalmologist Robert Berry.

"He's a typical little boy, outdoor hunter, he loves riding horses, hog hunting. We have no idea how," his mother Tiffani Burns says.

Dr. Berry says Justin could have caught the amoeba playing in a nearby pond.

According to the CDC, the acanthamoeba parasite is everywhere. It's floating around in our water and soil. Dr. Berry says it doesn't usually cause any trouble unless it ends up in your eye.

"They are not affected particularly by antibiotics any more than we are so they are hard to kill," he adds.

The infection forced Justin's parents to take him out of school.

"He struggles with the lights...it runs all the time," says Burns.

She sent cell phone video to show the toughest part, watching her son endure toxic treatments. There is no FDA approved medication, so Dr. Berry says the only way to treat the infection is through eye drops concocted from the same chemical as swimming pool cleaner.

Burns says, "It's been a struggle to watch him go through this. It's made him stronger, it's made him a tough little man."

But they have to try. Within 10 weeks the parasite robbed the 7-year-old of his sight in his right eye, now they're fighting to save the eye.

Since Justin's family does not have health insurance, they're struggling to pay for all of the doctor visits and treatments out of pocket. They've set up a Facebook page for support.

Doctors say roughly one in a million people contract this infection every and year three quarters of them are contact lens wearers.

If you wear contacts, Dr. Berry suggests practicing safe handling. For example, let the case dry out, apply fresh solution and be careful if you have a scratch on your eye. A scratch or open exposure can allow the amoeba to move in without any protection.
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