Brain-eating Amoeba Survivor to Head Back to School

Lacy LangleyBusiness

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Kali Hardig, statistically, should not be alive today. During a swim at a water park in July, the 12-year-old contracted parasitic meningitis, a rare infection caused by brain-eating amoebas that has a survival rate less than 1%. Kali is a fighter, though, and Wednesday, after 7 weeks in the hospital, CNN reports she is going home.

On Monday morning, she'll reach another milestone: she'll head back to school part-time. She'll be in class in the morning, and in physical and speech therapy in the afternoons. Right now, she can only talk and take a few steps on her own, so she will go to classes in the morning and therapy in the afternoons.

Soon after entering the Arkansas Children's Hospital earlier this summer, Kali was in critical condition; she was unresponsive and unable to breathe without the assistance of a breathing tube. Kali's doctors have been in virtually uncharted territory as they treat her for the rare amoeba, called Naegleria fowleri. Naegleria fowleri is found in hot springs and warm fresh water, most often in the southeastern United States.

Between 2001 and 2010, there were 32 reported cases in the United States, the CDC says. Most of the cases were in the Southeast. Out of 128 known cases in the past 50 years, just two patients have survived, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The amoeba enters the body through the nose and travels to the brain. You cannot be infected with the organism by drinking contaminated water, the CDC says.

The first symptoms of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis appear one to seven days after infection, including headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck, according to the CDC.

"Later symptoms include confusion, lack of attention to people and surroundings, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations," the CDC's website states. "After the start of symptoms, the disease progresses rapidly and usually causes death within one to 12 days."

Dr. Sanjiv Pasala, one of Kali's attending physicians, said the key to her survival was probably her mother getting her to the hospital early on. He said doctors immediately started treating her with an anti-fungal medicine, antibiotics and a new experimental anti-amoeba drug doctors got directly from the CDC. They also reduced the girl's body temperature to 93 degrees. Doctors have used that technique in some brain injury cases to preserve undamaged brain tissue.

Two weeks ago, doctors checked the girl's cerebral spinal fluid and could not find any presence of the amoeba. Kali is one of two 12-year-olds who recently contracted the amoeba. Zachary Reyna of Florida died last month of the parasite, even after receiving the same experimental drug that was given to Kali. He contracted the amoeba after kneeboarding in a water-filled ditch by his house August 3.

Image via twitter

Lacy Langley
Lacy is a writer from Texas. She likes spending time in the home office, homeschooling her kids, playing the didgeridoo, caring for her chickens (Thelma and Louise), Rolos, Christmas, and Labyrinth.