LITTLE ROCK — A 12-year-old Benton girl who was diagnosed with a rare, usually fatal form of meningitis was released from Arkansas Children’s Hospital on Wednesday after a recovery that her doctors have called miraculous.
Kali Hardig is only the third person — out of 128 recorded cases — known to have survived primary amoebic meningoencephalitis. Doctors said she was infected by a brain-eating amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri which is associated with warm rivers, lakes and streams.
Kali attended a news conference at the hospital Wednesday with her parents, Joseph and Traci Hardig. Though not entirely recovered from her illness, Kali walked to her seat unassisted. She plans to return to school Monday and will divide her days between school in the mornings and physical and speech therapy in the afternoons, doctors said.
"I’m lucky to be alive," Kali said.
She recommended that people be careful when swimming and wear nose plugs. The thing she was most looking forward to was playing with her dog, she said.
Kali had been hospitalized since July 19. Traci Hardig described the day she took Kali to the hospital after she developed a fever and began vomiting.
"Her pupils were dilated and she just couldn’t even hold her head up," Hardig said.
Emergency room physicians checked Kali’s spinal fluid for meningitis, and laboratory technicians identified the infection.
Doctors also sedated Kali, put her on a breathing machine and used a new cooling technique to keep her body at a low temperature to fight brain swelling.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released to the hospital a new anti-cancer drug from Germany, Miltefosine, which had never been used to treat the type of infection Kali had but had been used successfully outside the U.S. to treat a different type of infection.
"This was a great example of health care going right," Dr. Matt Linam, an infectious disease specialist who treated Kali, said in an interview. "From every point in her care, especially in those first few days, from the moment that her mom recognized that something wasn’t right and brought her to the hospital … and then after that it was just great teamwork between all the physicians and nurses, providing their best care and communicating with each other and just really working together as a team. I think it was these countless little things that happened well along the way that really made the difference for her."
"I got to watch a miracle unfold right in front of my eyes," Traci Hardig said during the news conference.
State health officials have said Kali likely was infected at Willow Springs Water Park, a sand-bottom, spring-fed park that has since closed.