Jesse Ramos, 15, left, Maria Sandoval and David Strickland visit Zachary Reyna at Miami Children's Hospital on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013. Zac lost his battle with the brain-eating amoeba Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013.(Photo: Kinfay Moroti, The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press)
MIAMI -- Zachary Reyna's family has prayed without ceasing until the very last. Now, they say the 12-year-old has moved on - to the big leagues. He's playing on "the Lord's team," the family wrote on a public Facebook page titled "Pray4Number4."
Zac's father said his son hit his final "homerun" just before 2 p.m. Saturday. As a coach, he was proud that his son had "left it all on the field." Surrounded by those who loved him the most, the boy was put on a ventilator at Miami Children's Hospital. His brain is still not showing any signs of activity three weeks after he contracted an infection from a brain-eating amoeba.
The infection, known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, happened after Zac was knee-boarding in a water-filled ditch near his family's home in LaBelle, Fla., on Aug. 3. An amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which thrives in warm, fresh water, enters the body through the nose, traveling to the brain.
The Reyna family's faith has held on beyond brain waves and doctors. And it will, friends say, even beyond death.
Lines of loved ones, friends and family arrived in Miami on Sunday driving from across Southwest Florida to pay their respects to the beloved LaBelle Little Leaguer. The community had come together, fundraising for the family, praying and garnering support. Pictures on Facebook showed people holding up the number four for the boy struggling to stay alive.
Zachary's organs will be donated, but his family wanted to give people the opportunity to say good-bye. It is still unclear when his organs would be removed for donation.
The path to the hospital's guest entrance has hundreds of concrete slabs. Two teammates who played ball with Zachary held their heads low, walking slowly to the automatic doors. Media outlets from across South Florida waited in the parking lot for anyone to talk about Zac. The news had gone national. Even singer Taylor Swift sent Zac a gift.
Stephen Delorme, 13, an eighth-grader at LaBelle Middle School, called Zac "spectacular." He said their team was dedicating their next season to Zac's memory. They would play their hardest for him.
"I just wish you were still here," Stephen said he would tell his friend. "Wish I could have spent more time with you."
Next to him, Jesse Ramos, 15, a 10th-grader at LaBelle High School, said Zac was "full of life."
A family of devout Christians, the Reynas believed in healing from a divine force beyond themselves that would cure Zac. With fervent faith, his loved ones stood in that gap between life and whatever comes next as intercessors on the boy's behalf. They posted this on Facebook on Sunday afternoon:
"From the Reyna family:
"We respect the doctor's protocol but we continue with our faith and believe God will step in on his time irregardless of what has been said. We ask that you continue to pray and believe along with us.
"Thank you and God bless."
It made no difference that the fatality rate for this parisitic infection is more than 99%. That the infection destroys brain tissue. That it's almost always lethal, and the boy's condition hadn't changed. They prayed for that miracle.
One out of the 128 people infected in the U.S. since 1962 has survived it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although an Arkansas teenager is the latest to survive the infection.
"They're a very special family, very united," said Javier Rueda, 58, of LaBelle, in Spanish. "And they remain united even now."
Rueda has known the Reyna family for years. He called them "honest and hardworking."
Caritina Casiano, 44, of LaBelle said the family has remained by the boy's side. They realized this was out of their control.
"They gave him up to God," said Casiano. "They left him in God's hands. But even now, until the last moment, they're praying for a miracle."
Contributing: Marisa Kendall, The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press
Cristela Guerra, The (Fort Myers, Fla.) News-Press