Brevard's Person of The Year: Courtney Nash

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MIMS, Fla. — Tragedy and adversity can fall upon anyone of us unexpectedly.  It is how we live our lives leading up to that pinnacle point in time, and how we meet life’s tragedy and adversity,  that often defines our character and our soul.  


Courtney Nash’s extraordinary care for others during her short life leading up to that tragic moment in the warm waters of Hatbill Park was both inspiring and heart wrenching to so many in-and-out of Brevard County.

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Helping Others:
From an early age knew Courtney Nash was always wanting to help others.  It made her happy to see others happy. 
In elementary school, she would help handicap children with horse therapy.  During the horse therapy visits, she would find the extra time to paint the young girls’ fingernails, brush their hair, or just hang out and talk with them.    
Every year around Christmas time, Courtney would take gifts to a nursing home and visit with the elderly to show that they were still special to someone. 

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When Courtney’s step-father’s father was dying from cancer the last weeks of his life, she would spend her time to help care for him. 

Courtney would often help her 5-year-old cousin, who is handicapped and paralyzed on the left side of her body, to coordinate muscle movements to help her gain the strength to walk. 

At this young age of 14, Courtney went to her parents and asked for permission to become an organ donor.  Courtney had her heart set on this gesture. She wanted her parents to allow for her to give these gifts of herself to others. 

Every night before she went to bed she would call her grandmother just to make sure she was ok or to see if she needed anything.


“She was kind, giving, always wanting to lend a hand, giving you the biggest hugs and she had the most precious smile,” said Courtney’s mother, PJ Nash-Ryder.


Just Another Teenager:

With the exception of her exceptional care giving, Courtney was otherwise just an ordinary teenage girl.  She loved music, dancing and was a huge Taylor Swift fan.  

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Like many teens, Courtney became a social butterfly when she got her driver license.  Her license also reconfirmed to Courtney that she was still a valid organ donor.   

Although she was still so young, her life was full of exciting things. She loved riding horses with all her friends. She loved hanging out with her brother Ethan at Hatbill Park where they would go fishing, swimming or just have a bonfire at night. They were inseparable; they were the best of friends. 

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At age 14, Courtney’s love for others grew.  She knew then what was important to her: her faith; love for God; her family; and her friends.  Whether young or old,  Courtney  knew that she enjoyed helping and caring for them.

She was proud to post on her Facebook page that God was #1 in her life, followed by her family and friends. 
At age 16, Courtney wanted to become a model, and ultimately an OB/GYN Physician.  Always thinking ahead, Courtney even had her children’s names picked out.
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Amoeba Infection:

Right before the beginning of the school year in early August 2011, Courtney and her friends went swimming in the St. Johns River where she became infected with the Naegelria fowleri amoeba parasite. 

After the swim, Courtney began to show signs of the infection which include fever, nausea, headaches, and deliriousness.  She was transported to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Women and Children for treatment.

While Courtney was in the hospital, people from all over the world came together to pray, and to give their love and support for her and her family.   Vigils were held in North Brevard County for  Courtney were participants prayed for a miracle.  

The amoeba, which is 99% fatal, took Courtney’s life on August 13, 2011.


A Community Remembers:
On August 15, 2011, Family and friends of Courtney Nash walked up Max Brewer Bridge to remember the 16-year-old Mims teen who was killed by an amoeba contracted from swimming in the St. John’s River.

Flower petals were thrown in the air, balloons released, and bouquets of flowers tossed off the bridge this afternoon to celebrate Courtney’s life.

At Astronaut High School, friends left a message on the chain link fence near the northern entrance to the school.

Courtney’s mother has asked that in the future, when the media begins paying attention to hurricane season around June 1 of every year, that they just add a blurb about the danger of amoeba during the hot summer months to raise awareness and remind parents.


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Organ Donation:

Four people’s lives were saved because Courtney was an organ donor.  One patient received both lungs.  The second received the right kidney. The third received the liver. The fourth patient received the left kidney and pancreas.  Because of Courtney‘s generosity and love these people have a second chance at life.
Unfortunately, Courtney’s heart could not be donated due to the medications that she was given to treat the amoeba infection.   
Many of Courtney’s family members, friends, and others who heard her story became organ donors. 
Courtney’s mother, PJ Nash-Ryder said this to the media about her daughter’s organ donations: “We learned that a kidney recipient was already undergoing surgery this morning.  She had a strong faith in god.  She always gave to others.  She’s one of a kind.  I didn’t get my miracle, but she performed other miracles.  She was 14-years-old when she asked me to sign the papers to become an organ donor.  This was her calling.  This is what she wanted to do.” 


Promote Amoeba Awareness:
Courtney’s mother has asked that in the future, when the media begins paying attention to hurricane season around June 1 of every year, that they just add a blurb about the danger of amoeba during the hot summer months to raise awareness and remind parents.
Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) is caused by a microscopic amoebas (mostly Naegleria fowleri species) commonly found in the upper layer of sediment in the bottom of lakes and ponds with mud floors.  They also can be present in poorly maintained swimming pools and hot tubs.  This infection cannot be spread from person to person or contracted from a properly maintained swimming pool.


Symptoms of an infection include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck, confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance and bodily control, seizures and hallucinations.  The public is urged to contact a medical professional immediately if experiencing any of these symptoms.

The threat of infection, although rare, increases during the summer months when the water temperature rises. The amoeba invades the brain and the disease progresses rapidly usually resulting in death within 3 to 7 days.

For more information visit the CDC Healthy Swimming website at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming/.

Prevention is the key. CDC and the Brevard County Health Department recommends the following:

1. Don’t swim or jump into warm, stagnant, fresh water, such as ponds or warm water discharge pools, or unchlorinated swimming pools;

2. Don’t swim in polluted water;

3. Don’t swim in areas posted as “No Swimming;” and

4. Hold your nose, or use nose plugs when jumping or diving into water.

For further information, please contact the Brevard County Health Department, Epidemiology

Department at (321) 454-7101.