LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A 12-year-old Arkansas girl who has been battling a rare and often-fatal infection caused by a brain-eating amoeba is now able to drink liquids and eat some food.
Kali Hardig was diagnosed last month with an infection caused by an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri.
There were 128 such infections reported in the United States between 1962 and 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before Kali, doctors could only point to one known survivor in the U.S. and another in Mexico.
So it's incredible that Kali (pronounced KAY'-lee) is alive, let alone making such progress.
"She's now eating some orally, although she's not doing real great with that because she hasn't eaten in so long," one of her doctors, Dr. Esther Tompkins, said Thursday. "But she's allowed to eat and drink whatever she wants now."
So far, Tompkins said that has meant water, crackers and some other food.
Kali is drinking "mostly just water because she says other stuff doesn't taste very good to her," Tompkins said. "She's had some Ritz crackers ... with peanut butter, and she likes chocolate pudding."
Health officials believe Kali got sick after a trip to a now-shuttered Arkansas water park that features a sandy-bottomed lake.
Naegleria fowleri (pronounced nuh-GLEER'-ee-uh FOW'-lur-ee) often is found in warm bodies of freshwater, such as lakes, rivers and hot springs. The amoeba typically enters the body through the nose as people are swimming or diving. It can then travel to the brain, causing a devastating infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM. That's what Kali has been battling.
Initial symptoms usually start within one to seven days and may include headache, fever, nausea and vomiting. The disease progresses rapidly, and other symptoms can include stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, seizures and hallucinations.
Moreover, the infection destroys brain tissue and can cause brain swelling and death.
Doctors say Kali's success is due in large part to experimental treatment and early detection and diagnosis.
Kali's mother, Traci Hardig, brought her to Arkansas Children's Hospital with a nasty fever on July 19.
Doctors cooled Kali's body down to try to reduce the swelling, and they won clearance to treat her with a breast-cancer drug.
Tests have since shown no sign of the parasite in her system.
Beyond her latest feat of eating and drinking, Kali has been relearning to walk and talk.
"She can answer questions, follow commands," said Tompkins, a staff pediatric rehab doctor at Arkansas Children's Hospital. "She's walking back and forth from her room to the therapy room now with just hand-held assistance with some braces on her feet, so that's pretty exciting for her."
Kali likely has months of outpatient therapy in store once she's released from the hospital. That could happen as early as next month, as she continues to impress doctors, relatives and other supporters with her accomplishments at the hospital.
"She's doing great. She's making progress every day," Tompkins said. "It's just a slow, steady build."
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