A 12-year-old Benton girl who became only the third person to survive after contracting a rare illness caused by a brain-eating amoeba has been released from the hospital.
Kali Hardig joined family and doctors Wednesday at Arkansas Children's Hospital for a news conference announcing her discharge after a recovery they called "miraculous."
Kali is the third person to ever survive primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, which she is believed to have contracted at Willow Springs Water Park after a July visit. The park has since closed.
Seated between her parents, Kali said she looked forward to going home to play with her dog. She said all the attention during her hospital stay was "kinda cool" and said she'd advise others to be careful when swimming and to wear a nose plug.
"I'm lucky to be alive," she said.
Doctors say Kali will go back to school as soon as Friday to check in and see her friends.
"I got to watch a miracle unfold right in front of my eyes," Kali's mother, Traci Hardig said, her voice waivering with emotion. "And it's been the greatest thing it could possibly be."
Dr. Matt Linam, medical director for infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, credited Traci Hardig with getting Kali to Children's as soon as she realized something was wrong. And he said a team of specialists took over from there, recognizing the rare illness and taking necessary steps to save Kali's life.
He called her treatment an "example of health care at its best."
"But no doubt this is a miracle," Linam said. "I don't want to take away from that. But it wasn't one singular event. I think the miracle happened in multiple small doses."
After the reunion at school Friday, Kali is expected to return to class Monday morning. She'll spend the mornings in school and the afternoons in therapy for four to six weeks and will hopefully be able to return to school for the full day after that, said Dr. Esther Tompkins.
The illness Kali contracted is caused by an amoeba that travels up a person's nose, causing an infection that is usually deadly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it has only two documented cases of people surviving before Kali, one in the U.S. and one in Mexico.
David Berry, senior vice president and chief operating officer at the hospital, said the "odds were clearly against Kali."
"I'm here to tell you today that miracles do happen," he said. "And one such miracle did happen here at Arkansas Children's Hospital. Now 55 days later, Kali Hardig has made history …. as the third survivor of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis."