HEMET (CBSLA.com) — Video footage of Koral Reef just months before her death shows a happy and healthy young woman getting fit for her big day.

The young woman from Winchester married her high school sweetheart. Koral’s life was falling perfectly into place.

That is, until Thanksgiving of 2013.

Koral’s mother Cybil Meister says a rare amoeba – called balamuthia – would change their family forever.

CBS2’s Tom Wait spoke to the young woman’s family.

“We had never heard of Balamuthia before,” said Meister. “She was having all of the typical symptoms of balamuthia: sensitivity to heat and light, nausea, the vomiting, the headaches.”

According to Meister, doctors did not recognize the rare infection. By September, Koral’s condition was grave, with a mass covering part of her brain.

Doctors mistakenly thought it was cancer. The 20-year-old died in October.

Michael Clark, her stepfather, told Wait the family is still in shock.

“It was devastating,” he said, “Cancer is bad enough. But balamuthia is worse.”

The family thinks Koral contracted the rare amoeba during a family trip to Lake Havasu, but no one can say for certain.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, balamuthia is a free-living amoeba that can infect the brain or spine. It can enter the body though wounds or cuts, or even through dust that’s inhaled.

Koral’s family says their goal now is to raise awareness and money for research. Team Koral Reef is now their cause.

“Our goal is to educate the public on this deadly brain-eating amoeba,” Meister said. “It’s something that lives in our environment and we have to just kind of take precautions.”

Koral’s family says her memory will live on – and in her passing, other lives hopefully will be saved.


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