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Family retains attorney after child dies from infection caused by amoeba at Arlington splash pad

An internal investigation revealed issues with water quality, incomplete records and gaps in inspections at splash pads, the city said.

Updated at 3:53 p.m. to include information about the child.

The family of a child who died this month from a rare infection caused by an amoeba likely contracted at an Arlington splash pad has retained an attorney, city officials said Tuesday.

In recent weeks, an internal investigation has revealed issues with water quality, incomplete records and gaps in inspections at the city’s four splash pads, including the one the child visited at Don Misenhimer Park, the city said Monday in a news release.

“We have identified gaps in our daily inspection program,” deputy city manager Lemuel Randolph said in a press release. “Those gaps resulted in us not meeting our maintenance standards at our splash pads.”

The city closed the Don Misenhimer splash pad Sept. 5, immediately after it was notified of the child’s illness, then closed the other three at the Beacon Recreation Center and Brantley Hinshaw and California Lane parks. They were to be open daily through Labor Day, then weekends only through September.

Arlington Mayor Jim Ross, who took office in June, told WFAA-TV (Channel 8) that the city failed its residents.

“Part of our job as city leaders is to protect our citizens, and we failed, we absolutely failed,” he said.

“The best way to deal with this thing is to come straight down main street and own it, we screwed up. Make no mistake, I’m taking responsibility for this, this happened under my watch and the buck stops here.”

Ross also told the station that his grandchildren use the city’s splash pads.

The child died Sept. 11, the city of Arlington and Tarrant County Public Health Department announced in a joint news release. They declined to provide the age, sex or additional details for the child, citing the need to protect the child’s identity, but posts on social media indicate that the child was a 3-year-old boy.

A review of inspection logs found that water chlorination readings were not documented at the Don Misenhimer splash pad on two of the three dates that the child visited the location in late August and early September.

Documents show that chlorination levels two days before his last visit were within acceptable ranges. However, the next documented reading, which occurred the day after the child visited, shows that the chlorination level had fallen below the minimum requirement and that additional chlorine was added to the water system.

Records from two of the four splash pads — Don Misenhimer Park and the Beacon Recreation Center — showed that city employees did not consistently record, or in some cases did not conduct, water-quality testing that is required before the facilities’ opening each day, the press release said. That includes checking for chlorine, a disinfectant used to prevent harmful organic matter.

Drinking water is not affected because the splash pads are equipped with a backflow prevention device designed to isolate the facility’s water system from the city’s water distribution system, the release said.

The child was hospitalized at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth with primary amebic meningoencephalitis, a rare and often fatal infection caused by Naegleria fowleri, sometimes called a brain-eating amoeba.

On Sept. 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the presence of active N. fowleri amoeba from water samples taken from the Don Misenhimer Park splash pad, where the child had played, and determined the site was the likely source of the child’s exposure, according to the city and health department.

Symptoms of primary amebic meningoencephalitis typically present within nine days of infection and include fever, severe headache, nausea and vomiting, according to the CDC. No additional cases of the infection have been reported to Tarrant County.

The risk of N. fowleri infection is exceedingly low, with only 34 reported infections in the United States between 2010 and 2019, according to the CDC. N. fowleri infects people when water containing the amoeba enters the body through the nose. This typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, such as lakes and rivers.

Sarah Bahari, Special Contributor. Sarah Bahari is a freelance writer covering Arlington, Irving and Grand Prairie. She previously worked as a features writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where she covered a little of everything. Email her tips at sarahbahari@gmail.com.

sarahbahari@gmail.com
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