Girl Who Beat Brain-Eating Amoeba Can Speak

Naegleria fowleri brain eating amoeba
This image shows tissue infected with the amoeba Naegleria fowleri., (Image credit: CDC/ Dr. Govinda S. Visvesvara)

The Arkansas girl who has been fighting an infection from a brain-eating amoeba is now able to speak.

Twelve-year-old Kali Hardig is thought to have contracted the parasite, called Naegleria fowleri, while swimming at a water park in south Little Rock, Ark., according to news reports.

Of the 128 people in the United States reported infected with the parasite between 1962 and 2012, Kali is only the second to survive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kali can't speak normally, but she can say "yes," "no," "Hi mama," "daddy" and "nanny," her mother told NBC News. Kali's doctors said her condition is stable, and she is responsive, after spending several weeks on a ventilator in the intensive care unit. [Tiny Amoeba Can Eat Your Brain (Infographic)]

N. fowleri is found in warm bodies of freshwater, including lakes, rivers and hot springs. It enters the body through the nose of swimmers or divers, and from there it can travel along nerve fibers to the brain, where it starts breaking down brain cells. The infection is known as primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, or PAM, and is almost always fatal.

Kali was admitted to Arkansas Children's Hospital on July 19 experiencing a high fever and vomiting. Doctors diagnosed her with PAM, and began an aggressive regime of treatment. They gave her antifungal drugs that had helped two previous PAM survivors, and cooled down her body to reduce the brain swelling. They also gave Kali an experimental drug called miltefosine, which was originally developed for breast cancer.

Tests now reveal no sign of the parasite in Kali's system. It's not clear whether the experimental drug is what made the difference, because a boy recently infected with N. fowleri and given the drug didn't survive.

Kali's situation looks positive, her doctors say. She could have some long-term deficits, but she's at least able to walk across a room now, albeit slowly She will likely need to remain in the hospital for several more weeks, and in therapy for several months, according to reports.

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Tanya Lewis
Staff Writer
Tanya was a staff writer for Live Science from 2013 to 2015, covering a wide array of topics, ranging from neuroscience to robotics to strange/cute animals. She received a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a bachelor of science in biomedical engineering from Brown University. She has previously written for Science News, Wired, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, the radio show Big Picture Science and other places. Tanya has lived on a tropical island, witnessed volcanic eruptions and flown in zero gravity (without losing her lunch!). To find out what her latest project is, you can visit her website.