LITTLE ROCK — A 12-year-old Benton girl who was infected by a rare brain-eating amoeba was upgraded from critical to fair condition and taken out of the intensive care unit at Arkansas Children’s Hospital on Friday, according to one of the doctors treating her.
Kali Hardig is expected to survive, though she likely will have to spend another month or two at Arkansas Children’s Hospital recovering, Dr. Mark Heulitt said. He said the type of infection Kali contracted is so rare that only 128 cases have been recorded — and Kali will be only the third person to contract it and live.
When Kali was admitted to the hospital on July 19, "we weren’t thinking she was going to survive this," Heulitt said. "The fact that she’s where she is now, it’s a miracle."
Kali’s mother, Traci Hardig, took her to the hospital after she developed a fever. Doctors diagnosed her with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a form of meningitis caused by an amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri which is associated with warm rivers, lakes and streams.
Doctors at the hospital then contacted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, which released for their use a new anti-cancer drug from Germany, Miltefosine. The drug has been used in another type of parasitic infection but never in the type Kali had.
Kali’s doctors also sedated her, put her on a breathing machine and used a new cooling technique to keep her body at a low temperature to fight brain swelling, a technique that has been used on patients with head injuries with "encouraging results," Heulitt said.
The Miltefosine killed the amoeba, and Kali began improving. She was taken off of the breathing machine on Wednesday, and as the tube was being removed she opened her eyes. By Friday, she was not yet able to speak but was mouthing words and making gestures, according to Heulitt.
He said it is unknown at this time whether Kali will make a complete recovery or have lasting effects from the infection.
Heulitt said Kali’s case will be written up and is sure to be studied and debated. He attributed her recovery to a number of factors coming together, including her mother’s quick action in taking her to the hospital, the availability of the new drug, the aggressive treatment she received, the support from Kali’s "prayerful family" and Kali herself.
"She is phenomenal," he said. "When she finishes rehab and comes back down here, I can’t wait to really meet her,"
Kali’s family released the following statement Friday:
"We are thrilled that Kali is now out of intensive care at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. She remains in the hospital and is making slow, steady progress. We are so excited about every milestone! This afternoon we are transitioning to a new unit and spending time together as a family. We continue to be so grateful for everyone’s thoughts and prayers. They have made all the difference for Kali."
The state Department of Health has identified Willow Springs Water Park, a sand-bottom, spring-fed lake just east of Little Rock, as the likely source of the infection. The park has voluntarily closed in response to health officials’ findings.