Mom urges testing after son dies from swimming in James River

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - A grieving mom is urging parents to take precautions after her son died from meningitis contracted while swimming in the James River.

"His last words were: Mommy, I love you," Amber Strickland remembers, as she clutches onto a picture of her 9-year-old son Christian.

"The house is so quiet. It makes it more and more real everyday that I won't hear his voice again. He won't wake me up blowing bubbles in my face," added Strickland.

For weeks, she didn't know why her son suddenly died. "He had a headache and the next day he woke up and he couldn't recognize me and couldn't talk," she recalls.

She asked for a brain biopsy and that's when she learned Christian died from meningitis, caused by the amoeba he inhaled while swimming in the James River.

Now, she is on a crusade to make sure no parent relives her pain. First, by urging doctors to test more if you're child has any of Christian's symptoms. Second, by using proper equipment in warm, stagnant water where amoeba thrive.

"There are other precautions like nose plugs that could be life saving. At least if you are in a lake or water that isn't running," said Amber.

The CDC is now working with states like Virginia and researchers to develop better ways to test for problems like amoeba in water.

While that's ongoing, the Henrico school where Christian was set to start third grade this year is planning to honor him by dedicating new equipment on this playground and a nearby maple tree, in his honor.

"He had a larger than life spirit and everyone here misses that," said a somber Strickland.

The school where Christian attended, Glen Allen Elementary, will install that playground equipment next week. The school will have a dedication ceremony in April.

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