Hundreds pay tribute to Courtney Nash, who died of rare amoeba brain infection

The 16-year old student who died from a rare amoebic infection contracted after swimming at the St. Johns River was honoured by hundreds of people who lined at Max Brewer Bridge Monday as they dropped flower petals on the water.

Among those who stopped to pay tribute to Courtney Nash are her friends, schoolmates and entire families, many of them wearing T-shirts in memory of Nash with the words “R.I.P. CJN” and “I love you, Courtney”.

Courtney’s mother Patricia Nash-Ryder, who was in the middle of the throng, talked about her daughter’s strong faith in God and how at the young age of 14 she had signed up to be an organ donor.

“She touched so many lives,” Nash-Ryder said. Then looking at the throng of friends, she said: “They have given me the strength to keep going.”

She hopes that the tragedy will make people more aware about the type of amoebic infection that affected and led to the death of her daughter.

Astronaut High students decorated their cars and wore T-shirts memorializing Courtney on Monday to honour the teen who just started her junior year. Also present at the media centre of the school were 10 grief counsellors.

“They’re very close-knit as a community,” Principal Terry Humphrey said. “I think that everybody’s trying to make sure that the family knows she was loved.

“One of the things about living in a small community like Mims, you know everybody.”

Tom Uzel of Port St. John, Courtney’s uncle, said she wanted to become a model and an obstetrician. Nash enjoyed the outdoors and participated in softball.

“Just a wonderful child, she’s our angel,” Uzel said.

Elizabeth Candler, who said she and Courtney have been friends since the second grade, said Courtney was good-natured and kind.

“She had everything going for her,” Candler said. “In the blink of an eye, she is gone. It could have been any of us.”

Health officials said the amoebic infection was caught by Nash during the first week of August while swimming in the River. This was confirmed by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention which said amoeba Naegleria fowleri commonly enters the body through the nose.

Brevard County Health Department epidemiologist Barry Inman said it was the first case of the amoebic infection so far this year in Florida “and we hope it’s the last.”

“The symptoms may be similar to many types of encephalitis and meningitis,” Inman said.

Uzel said Nash went swimming with her brother and four friends but no one else got sick.

“Three generations have swam off that dock and this is the first time anything like that’s happened,” Uzel said.

“Monday night (Aug. 8) she started having real bad headaches,” he said.

Nash died at the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando Saturday.

“The only way to treat it is to prevent it,” Uzel said.

“We’ve known Courtney’s been saving lives already by the organ donation, and she’ll go on saving lives from the information the CDC is going to learn from this case.”

“She has definitely touched many lives,” he said.