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Incident Name:
Date: 03/10/08 
Personnel: Matthew Moore
Age: 43
Agency/Organization: Murrieta Fire Department
Position: Captain

Summary: "It is with regret that we advise you of the On-Duty Death of Fire Captain Matt Moore of the Murrieta, CA FD, who died last night. Captain Moore had been ill since contracting an amoebic brain parasite late last year, suspected to be while operating at previous Wildland fires.

Captain Moore was surrounded by his family, including wife Sherry, children Alyssa, 16, Trent, 13 and Branden, 13, his parents Carol and Phil, brother Mark, also a Murrieta Fire Captain and countless friends and colleagues. Captain Moore has been hospitalized since November, 2007 with an aggressive form of meningitis caused by an amoebic parasite known as Balamuthia mandrillaris. Balamuthia mandrillaris enters the body through the lower respiratory tract or through open wounds. For the last six weeks, Captain Moore has been in the Intensive Care Unit at the University of California San Diego Medical Center."

Photo compliments of Murrieta Fire Department.

Matt Moore Matt Moore

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  • Rare amoeba threatens fire captain’s life

    2/29/2008 | Online Article

    A rare, incurable amoeba has put a Murrieta resident in a coma while the community rallies around his family. Matt Moore, 43, a captain in the Murrieta Fire Department, is in critical condition in the University of California, San Diego’s critical care unit. The doctors have little idea how to stop the amoeba, Balamuthia mandrillaris, because of its obscurity, Matt’s brother Mark said.

    Less than 150 cases have been diagnosed since its discovery 20 years ago, according to an article in the Journal of Medical Microbiology. The amebas, which live in dust and soil and enter the body through inhalation, create lesions in the brain. Only two patients have survived the disease.

    Moore caught the amoeba in mid-November when he came down with sever flu symptoms. The Moore family spent the next two months in and out of hospitals, said Sherry, Matt’s wife. All the while, his condition worsened. "It was misdiagnosed so many times," Sherry said in an interview Monday.

    In mid-January, Matt slipped into a comma-like, vegetative state, she said. Though his condition has failed to improve, it has shown no sign of degrading, Mark said in an interview Monday. Doctors and family members have been unable to tell if Matt has regained consciousness at any point.

    He occasionally opens his eyes, Mark said, and has moved his hands seemingly in response to requests. The inconsistency of Matt’s responses, his brother said, makes telling if he’s conscious difficult.

    The amoeba

    The Balamuthia mandrillaris ameba is a free-living pathogen, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. This means it can survive with no living host. It lives in soil and dust and is usually contracted by inhalation, making people who work in agriculture, construction or firefighting especially likely to be exposed. Most humans are immune to the pathogen, according to the site. The majority of the ameba’s victims have been children or people with compromised immune systems.

    Once in the body, the ameba eats away at brain tissue, causing a condition called amebic encephalitis. The earliest symptoms of the disease are chronic headaches and flu-like symptoms. As it sets in, victims grow lethargic until they slip into a coma.

    The survivors

    Matt is the 13th human victim of the disease in California since its 1986 discovery in a mandrill at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Two people, both California residents, have survived the disease. The Moore family turns to these cases for hope, Mark said.

    One case in particular raises their spirits. Hayden Dryden, 76, of Aptos recovered "miraculously" after spending six weeks in a coma caused by the disease, his wife Jackie said in an interview Tuesday. Hayden was 64 years old when he caught the disease in 1996, she said. After doctors found the ameba in a biopsy of Hayden’s brain, they gave Jackie a grim prognosis.

    Of the cases diagnosed in the world, not one person had yet survived. The doctors were little more than helpless against the ravages of the disease. "They didn’t know what to do; nobody had ever survived it," Jackie said. "They just kept trying different cocktails of medications."

    When Hayden slipped into a coma, Jackie could only hope for a miracle. Then in 1996, on New Year’s Eve, Jackie got what she was hoping for: Hayden awoke. She was sitting at his bedside when the clocked read midnight. "I asked him, ‘Well, it’s a new year. Would you like some champagne?’" said Jackie. To her surprise, Hayden opened his eyes and nodded his head. "The doctor said he was almost tempted to give him some," Jackie said.

    Hayden spent the next 18 months at a rest home until he was well enough to come home. The disease damaged Hayden’s brain permanently, leaving him with stroke-like side effects, Jackie said. Nonetheless, that he walks with a cane and enjoys playing his trumpet and talking politics is a miracle, she said.

    The family

    The Moore family is hoping, praying and struggling while they wait for a change in Matt’s condition. "It’s just one day at a time, seeing if he responds to any of the medications," Sherry said. The loss of Matt in the family’s daily life is hard on their three children: Alyssa, 16, Trent, 13, and Branden, 13. "We’re just hanging in there and doing what we have to do," Sherry said. "We’re all dealing with this in our own way."

    Matt’s absence is especially hard on Branden, who the family adopted last year. "He and Sherry had always talked about adopting… they’re just that kind of people," said Matt’s oldest friend, Mike Samuels, in an interview Monday. Samuels and the Murrieta Fire Auxiliary are organizing a series of fundraising events to help the Moore family deal with Matt’s absence. "It’ll relieve the stress the family’s been under," said Samuels. "It’ll offset some of the financial burden of having Matt in the hospital."

    Matt, a 17-year veteran of the Murrieta Fire Department, affected a lot of people’s lives, said Samuels. He mentored troubled youths, many of whom became firefighters.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) webpage: Balamuthia amoebic encephalitis risk

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Matt Moore Marker Matt Moore Marker
  • Services for fallen firefighter scheduled

    March 13, 2008 | Californian

    Services for Murrieta Fire Capt. Matt Moore are scheduled for 11 a.m. March 20 at Calvary Chapel of Murrieta, 24225 Monroe Ave.

    Moore died Monday night at UCSD Medical Center in San Diego, succumbing to complications from meningitis, Fire Department officials said. Moore, 43, a 17-year veteran of the department, had been hospitalized in a coma for the last two weeks. He had been in various hospitals since November battling an aggressive form of meningitis, a disease doctors believe came from a parasite Moore might have inhaled while fighting the region's wildfires late last year. The parasite reportedly caused swelling in his brain.

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Contributors to this article: Scott Roberts, RJM, Ken Kempter

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