Full statement from Whitewater Center CEO on teen’s fatal infection

Jeff Wise is CEO and president of the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.
Jeff Wise is CEO and president of the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. Courtesy of Jeff Wise

Jeffrey T. Wise, CEO of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, sent this statement out Wednesday evening about the death of Lauren Seitz. The 18-year-old is believed to have died from a rare amoebic infection that might have been contracted at at Charlotte’s Whitewater Center.

Here is the full statement:

I would like to address the recent media reports and concerns expressed by our guests and supporters regarding the US National Whitewater Center. Yesterday afternoon, June 21, 2016, I was informed by health officials that an individual had passed away from meningitis potentially caused by a water born organism. The individual, Lauren Seitz, had visited the USNWC earlier in the month and the USNWC was therefore identified as a possible source of the organism.

On behalf of the USNWC, I wish to express our sincere condolences and sympathies to Lauren and her family. The USNWC is committed to working with health officials and all organizations to investigate in all manners possible the circumstances related to this incident.

At this point, the USNWC and the Centers for Disease Control, the North Carolina Department of Health and the Mecklenburg County Health Department have met to share information. An important point to highlight is that according to the health officials, the source of this organism has not been identified, and in all likelihood, is not identifiable. However, it is equally important to recognize that the organism is commonly found around the world in open bodies of water and the USNWC does have several such bodies of water.

The various health officials have stressed that while the presence of the organism is common, it is extremely rare to become infected by it. The CDC pointed out that there have been approximately 130 cases of the infection dating back to 1937 compared with 11 deaths every day from drowning. This comparison is driving our actions and analysis since the CDC is telling us that one occurrence is extremely rare and a second occurrence is equally rare. In other words, there are no outbreaks. Our focus is always on stressing safety and risk in the most appropriate manner possible.

In that regard, the US National Whitewater Center has always been aware of the significant risks associated with all aspects of the Center and has attempted to use every reasonable means possible to address water quality for safety purposes. Long before the Center was built, we worked with state and local health officials to determine the appropriate measures to use for water quality. Everyone recognized this was not a pool or a natural river and therefore would present its own unique circumstances. We installed and maintain a state of the art filtration system and ultraviolet radiation treatment system that continuously treats the 12 million gallons of water every 24 hours in addition to supplemental chlorine treatments. Our weekly water tests are conducted by a third party laboratory and we have remained in compliance with all standards and guidelines.

Having said all of this, despite every measure we take, there is always a risk of injury or harm based on the very nature of what we do and who we are. There are open bodies of water and they are exposed to naturally occurring organisms such as this particular amoeba. Based on the fact that the CDC has informed us of the extremely low risk of an infection at the Center, along with the water treatment precautions taken, I am very comfortable that the Center remains responsible and reasonable in every respect as it relates to this particular health risk and all other risks associated with the Center.

We will always recognize and stress the risks involved with the Center and we will remain vigilant in working to manage those risks as best as possible. These risks will always exist and we are deeply saddened any time harm occurs as a result. We are continuing to work with health officials to examine the facts involved in Lauren’s case, although we have been told repeatedly that little additional information will be determinable specific to this occasion. In the meantime, we will be thinking of Lauren and her family and doing everything possible help to understand the facts related to this matter.


Jeffrey T. Wise