This is the miraculous story of how she lived. 5 19 19 19 19-8. 5 0 19 0zm0 34c-8. 7 4 19 4s15 6. The hazy glare of another hot morning shone through the blinds when Kali Hardig plopped onto a gray, floral-patterned couch and waited for the throbbing in brain eating amoeba water heater head to subside.
Almost as if her long, sun-drenched hair were on fire. Kali, who was then 12 years old, didn’t even want to get out of bed. Traci, her mother, said she didn’t want Kloee, her bouncy little Yorkie, up on the couch. Kali couldn’t hold her gaze. Her eyes rolled back into her head. She had an appointment for 3 p. Traci called her husband, Joseph. I got her in, but I don’t know if she’s going to make it that long. Traci’s mom, Linda, had driven over from her house and the two laid Kali on a bed of wet towels in the back of her white Saturn.
Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock. It was just a day earlier that Kali and two of her friends had piled into the car to go to Willow Springs Water Park, a warm, muddy, man-made pond about halfway between home and Little Rock. She loved the water and begged to go swimming with dolphins on family vacations to Panama City Beach. The park had a big baby-blue water slide that came 400 feet down a hill, carousel swings encircled a mock sunken ship. At the ER, Traci made it clear that this was no ordinary flu. When the doctors asked about doing a spinal tap to rule out meningitis, Traci told them Kali was terrified of needles, but Kali didn’t flinch as the nurse explained how they were going to stick an IV in her arm. Another doctor extracted a sample of cerebrospinal fluid from the horsetail of nerves that extend from the brain down the spine. White blood cells and a Naeglaria organism at the center.
The sample went to Tameka Reed, a technician at the hospital microbiology lab. What she saw was not bacteria or fungi, but a pinkish scrum of white blood cells clustered around a white blob. The hospital had diagnosed two previous cases — and two previous deaths. Despite the unconventional diagnosis, the lab was confident. A call went out to Dr. Matt Linam, one of the hospital’s infectious disease specialists: They had another case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis, an acute, rapidly progressive infection that leads to swelling of the brain.
The doctors called the CDC. The story soon spread — as did the hysteria. The parasite could be anywhere. It was invisible to the naked eye and it was almost always deadly.
There was danger, to be sure, but the panic was fueled by the three words nearly everyone used to describe the microorganism: brain-eating amoeba. Swallow one, or even more than one, and they’re harmless because gastric acid inferno burns them to a crisp. But when the organism gets flushed up your nose, there’s a chance it can attach to the nasal mucosa, dissolve the barrier, and wander into the brain. From there, the little cellular organism, about 10 vestibular neuritis in older dogs in diameter, about one-eighth the size of human hair, kicks its two whip-like flagella and swims up the olfactory nerve. It’s like it’s on a highway direct to the brain.