A 12-year-old Arkansas girl is showing signs of recovery after a month-long battle with a brain-eating amoeba, uttering her first words and taking her first steps since the harrowing infection.
Kali Hardig was in critical condition after being diagnosed with primary amoebic meningoencephalitis – a rare and almost-always-fatal form of meningitis caused by the parasite Naegleria fowleri.
Only two people in North America are known to have survived the infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We want Kali to be #3!!!” reads a post on a Facebook page dedicated to the girl’s recovery, where the Hardig family has been posting photos and regular updates on her condition.
On Monday, Kali said “Hi Mama,” according to one of the Facebook updates.
“I was so happy that tears just started falling down my checks!” reads the post, which appeared to have been written by Kali’s mother, Traci Hardig. “She just does something everyday [sic] that blows us away. I have such an amazing little girl and she has big things to do!!!!!”
Kali is thought to have contracted the brain-eating amoeba from a sandy bottomed lake at Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock, Ark., according to the Arkansas Department of Health. The 85-year-old water park, which was linked to an earlier Naegleria infection in 2010, has since closed.
“Though the odds of contracting Naegleria are extremely low, they are just not good enough to allow our friends or family to swim,” park owners David and Lou Ann Ratliff said in a statement in late July.
Naegleria thrives in warm, standing freshwater and the sediment of rivers and lakes. And while it’s usually harmless, it can cause fatal brain swelling if inhaled through the nose.
“If concerned about Naegleria, avoid swimming, diving or other activities that push water up the nose, especially in natural waters when temperatures are high and water levels are low,” Dr. Dirk Haselow of the Arkansas Department of Health said in a statement.
Early symptoms of the infection include a severe frontal headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, according to the CDC. But those can swiftly give way to a stiff neck, seizures, confusion and hallucinations as the amoeba makes its way up through the nasal cavity into the brain.
“After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within about five days,” the CDC’s website reads. “People should seek medical care immediately whenever they develop a sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck and vomiting, particularly if they have been in warm freshwater recently.”
Earlier this month, 12-year-old Zachary Reyna from Florida contracted the same infection, prompting words of support from Kali’s family.
“Kali and I are asking for you all to add Zachary to your prayers,” read an August 12 Facebook post, noting that Zachary would be the fourth Naegleria survivor. “Kali’s Krew loves you and is supporting you all the way!! Slow and steady wins the race!”
Naegleria was also eyed in the death of a Minnesota child last summer, when the state experienced a heat wave.
In the summer of 2011, the amoeba killed four people in Virginia, Florida, Kansas and Louisiana, all of whom had been swimming in freshwater lakes.
The owners of Willow Springs Water Park, where Kali is thought to have contracted the infection, said they will take time to “determine the feasibility of installing a solid bottom to the lake.”
“We will not ever reopen as a sand bottom lake,” they said in a statement.
The CDC offered the following tips for summer swimmers:
- Hold your nose shut or keep your head above water;
- Avoid swimming in warm, fresh water during periods of high water temperature and low water levels;
- Avoid stirring up sediment in shallow, freshwater areas.