ARLINGTON, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) -The parents of a 3-year-old boy named Bakari Williams, who died on September 11 from a brain eating amoeba that was probably inflicted on the Don Misenhimer Park spray cushion on September 5, speak out.
Bakari’s mother, Kayla Mitchell, described him as “just a big ball of energy.” She said he was a very loving big brother to her 1-year-old and another sibling who died last year of SIDS. She explained some of the symptoms Bakari suffered after the family’s usual outing to the splash pad.
“The next morning he had a high fever that pushed to 103, so from there he would not eat or drink. All he wanted to do was lie down. That was when I knew something was up seriously wrong. We had to help him use the toilet. He was so weak, ”she said.
Bakari’s family filed a lawsuit against the city of Arlington on October 4.
“Bakari was a loving, sweet, handsome boy. He did not deserve to die this way. For us, this case is about public awareness. The last thing we want is for everyone else to go through this, ”said the child’s father, Tariq Williams.
Claiming that the city is responsible for the “preventable tragedy,” said attorney Steven Stewart, “The city decided to ignore the very safety rules that were intended to prevent this. The water went untried and untreated most of the time. When that happens. , bad things happen. ”
After calling the loss Bakari’s family suffered “unimaginable,” Stewart said, “These state mandates are serious. This is about Justice and accountability. We want to ensure that all the other splash pads are adequately maintained and serviced. If you want to offer this kind of public entertainment, you have to do it right. It is life and death. ”
The risk of Naegleria fowleri infection is very low, with only 34 reported infections in the United States between 2010 and 2019, according to the CDC. It infects humans when water containing amoeba enters the body through the nose, the city of Arlington explained in a press release. This typically happens when people swim or dive in warm freshwater places, such as lakes and rivers. In very rare cases, the amoeba has been identified in other sources, such as insufficiently chlorinated swimming pool water or heated and contaminated tap water.
A Tarrant County Public Health study identified two possible sources of Bakari’s exposure to water containing N. fowleri: the family home in Tarrant County or the Don Misenhimer Park spray pad in Arlington.
On September 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the presence of active N. fowleri amoeba at the splash pad from water samples and determined that the Arlington site was the likely source of his exposure.
Arlington’s chief epidemiologist Russ Jones said the bacteria thrive in recycled water. “When they recycle it, there really has to be two different types of disinfection to prevent this from happening,” Jones said.
But the lack of disinfection made it happen, according to the CDC as well as Arlington city leaders, who say they feel personally responsible.
Tarrant County Public Health and the City of Arlington said they were notified Sept. 5 that Bakari was admitted to Cook Children’s Medical Center with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. The city closed the Don Misenhimer Park splash plate that day, immediately after notification of the child’s illness, and proactively closed all public spray pads for the rest of the year out of an abundance of caution.
“It breaks my heart. I am a father of 4. I am a grandfather of 5 children from 2 to 7 years. I can not imagine having to bury a child or a grandchild like that, “said Arlington Mayor Jim Ross.
The city said all of its splash pads will remain off until an investigation and that the water supply was never affected. Despite Bakari’s death, health experts said splash pads can be operated safely as long as they are properly maintained. Health experts said the risk of drowning is still 100 times greater than contracting this infection. They advise parents to ask questions about the splash pads in other cities, especially if they use recycled water.
Symptoms of primary amebic meningoencephalitis typically occur within nine days of infection, according to the CDC. Apart from Bakari, no other cases of this infection have been reported to Tarrant County Public Health.
As part of its response plan, the City of Arlington is conducting a thorough review of splash pad equipment and supplies, maintenance and policies for water quality inspection, procedures and training to ensure safe recreational areas for residents and visitors. All city spray cushions passed their annual inspection before the start of the summer season. However, testing water quality data has shown the need for improvements, city officials said.
“We have identified gaps in our daily inspection program,” said Deputy Mayor Lemuel Randolph. “These gaps resulted in us not meeting our maintenance standards on our splash pads. All splash pads remain closed until we are assured that our systems are working properly and we have confirmed a maintenance protocol that complies with city, county and state standards. ”
Records from two of the four splash pads, those at Don Misenhimer Park and The Beacon Recreation Center, show that park and recreation staff did not consistently record or in some cases did not conduct water quality tests required prior to the facilities opening every day.
This includes controlling chlorine, which is a disinfectant used to prevent harmful organic matter.
When readings of chlorine levels were below the minimum standards at these sites, the inspection log did not consistently reflect what action the city employees took to bring up the chlorination levels. For example, the lodges did not always show how much disinfectant chemical was manually added to the water system of the spray pads.
The logs also did not consistently include a follow-up reading to confirm that the water chlorination levels were at acceptable levels after treatment.
In addition, a review of inspection logs found that water chlorination measurements were not documented by Don Misenhimer splash pad on two of the three dates Bakari visited the site in late August and early September. Documents show that the chlorination levels two days before his last visit were within acceptable ranges.
However, the next documented reading, which took place the day after Bakari visited, shows that the chlorination level had fallen below the minimum requirement and that additional chlorine was added to the water system.