After Beating Rare Infection, Arkansas Girl Goes Home

Sep 11, 2013

Kali Hardig, with her parents Joseph and Traci, receives good wishes from Scout, mascot of Arkansas Children's Hospital.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

After contracting an extremely rare and deadly infection, 12 year-old Kali Hardig of Benton was released from the hospital Wednesday.

Upon her release from Arkansas Children’s Hospital, she was asked if her experience has led her to have any advice for other children. “Be careful when you go to waterparks...wear your nose plug,” she said, referring to Willow Springs Water Park in Little Rock. While there,  she is suspected of having contracted a very rare and deadly "brain-eating" amoeba, in a condition known as Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis or PAM.

PAM starts when the amoeba Naegleria fowleri, which hangs out in warm fresh water sources, enters someone’s brain through the nasal cavity.

There have been 128 documented cases of the infection in the United States between 1962 and 2012, with one documented survivor, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.  There was also reportedly a case of someone surviving the disease in  Mexico. This would make Kali just the third known survivor.

Hardig’s parents and some of her medical team were on hand to speak at her release. Her mother Traci talked about the first day she noticed Kali showing signs of a fever.

“Once I tried to get the fever down, Motrin, Tylenol—nothing would get her fever down. And then she started vomiting and it was just—I don’t know how to describe it—it was just not a normal type,” she said.

Traci Hardig called the experience a “roller coaster I didn’t want to be on.”

“The first 22 days being in ICU you just never knew. I mean you’re told the worst news possible and then to go from that outcome of not having your child—maybe—to this road that we’ve been down and get to actually take her home. I mean, I got to watch a miracle unfold, right in front of my eyes. And it’s been the greatest thing it could possibly be,” she said.

Doctors said Traci Hardig’s quick decision to get Kali to the hospital greatly raised the chance that her daughter survived. Dr. Matt Linam led the medical team treating her and said the turning point in the case was when lab technicians first identified the amoeba.

From Left: Dr. Matt Liman, Kali's therapist Esther Tompkins, Joseph Hardig, Kali Hardig, Traci Hardig
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

“And really from there, from that point on, it was just amazing to be a part of just incredible teamwork,” said Linam. "From the critical care physicians and nurses, the neurosurgeons—all the other people who were involved in her care—everybody sort of had their ‘A’ game going.”

Kali Hardig said she looked forward to playing with her dog, Chloe, when she gets home. She’s set to start back at school next week, though she'll continue to undergo physical and speech therapy.