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Girl with brain-eating parasite treated with experimental drug

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A 12-year-old girl from Arkansas who contracted a brain-eating parasite during a trip to a water park has improved slightly after being treated with an experimental drug.

Kali Harding was so exhausted when she first arrived at Arkansas Children’s Hospital that she couldn’t answer the doctor’s questions.

“(The doctor) asked me several times did I think Kali was being like what you call a hypochondriac,” Kali’s mom, Traci, recalled.

After listening to what the family had to say and running tests, doctors learned Kali was suffering from a rare and typically deadly infection -- a brain-eating amoeba was swimming around in her spinal fluid.

Kali’s parents were told she might have only days to live.

“I hung on by my husband and asking him, ‘What are we going to do?’ And he would tell me that, ‘We’re gonna pray for Kali and we’re gonna help her fight. We’re gonna tell her to fight.’ And that she would be okay,” Traci said.

To preserve brain tissue, Kali’s doctors induced a coma and cooled her body to 93 degrees. Doctors also turned to the Centers for Disease Control for an experimental anti-amoeba drug.

Doctors were at first unsure if the experimental drug would help, but there is no longer any trace of the amoeba in Kali’s spinal fluid.

“Day-by-day she’s showing slow improvement and we’re all very optimistic,” Dr. Sanjiv Pasala said.

Kali is still in critical condition and remains in intensive care.

"Killing the amoebas is one thing, but managing brain swelling and the aftermath of the infection and the irritation to the brain is really the critical part in having a patient survive," Pasala said.

Only one person in the United States has survived the disease in the past 50 years.