LaBELLE, Fla. — In LaBelle, Fla., lies a boy whose family said changed the world.
Zachary Reyna, 12, was buried Saturday near trees covered in Spanish moss, next to World War II veterans and headstones older than his time on Earth. Under a summer sun, hundreds circled his grave at Fort Denaud Cemetery. One by one, they lowered their heads and let Zachary go. Overhead, cicadas sang in unison, making sounds that resembled a rush of wind through the branchesZachary Reyna, 12, was active in sports before contracting the parasite.
Zachary died Aug. 24 after an almost monthlong battle with an infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba. He contracted the parasitic infection, known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, while knee-boarding, a sport similar to water skiing, in a water-filled channel Aug. 3 near his family’s home about 30 miles east of Fort Myers, Fla.He had been in a Miami hospital since then battling for his life. Antibiotics defeated the infection Aug. 21, but Zachary’s family acknowledged online that it was a small victory because of the amount of damage his brain suffered.
At the service, crowds held hands and prayed for Zachary. Strangers and friends lifted their eyes to the sky with faith.
“I’ve never seen a service like this for anybody,” said Pastor Carl Daley of First Apostolic Church in Cape Coral, Fla., who prayed with the family when Zachary first got sick. “He was lively and fun-loving. Joyful.”
It’s also was not about the way he died. It was the way he lived that touched lives.I don’t know what it was,” said his 24-year-old sister, Amanda Reyna. “He was magnetic; always smiling. He had a loving personality.”
Zachary lived his life on a baseball field. His parents, Jesus Reyna Jr. and Betsy Villarreal, shuffled him from tournament to practice and back again. When his dad, a citrus harvester, was out of town, the family would video chat so Jesus Reyna wouldn’t miss a play. He loved dancing, singing, the color orange, baseball and popcorn covered with hot sauce.
Ron Dunbar coached both his mom in basketball and his older brother, Brandon in baseball. He was looking forward to coaching Zachary.
“Brandon used to bring Zac to batting practice,” Dunbar said. “And he’d say, ‘He’s going to be a good one, one day.’ Zac’s just playing for a better team now.”
The family said Zachary brought people together. His family and friends always filled the house. When he got sick those same friends filled his hospital room, praying around the clock for the boy’s recovery.
“He was amazing,” said his 15-year-old brother Matthew Reyna. “He lived life to the fullest.”
Saturday afternoon, an estimated 1,000 people filled the auditorium at LaBelle Middle School earlier, writing messages to Zachary, sporting red shirts that said “No. 4 changed the world.” He wore the number on his baseball uniform, a second baseman with aspirations of professional ball.
His grave was covered by the end of his funeral. Baseball memorabilia and petals overflowed.
His family said Zachary’s life was a miracle that impacted thousands. They want the momentum to continue by beginning a foundation to educate on the dangers of the infection — which thrives in warm, fresh water and enters the body through the nose, traveling to the brain — as well as a scholarship in Zachary’s name. His legacy will be to help others. His organs, donated last week, will save lives.
“He touched us all,” his uncle, Danny Reyna, said at the service. “He changed the world. This was bigger than Zac. … Fathers and mothers: Be good parents, support your children. Siblings: Fight and pick on each other and at the end of the day, say ‘I love you.’ Be there for each other.”