LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Kali Hardig is the Benton girl who contracted a deadly brain infection at Willow Springs Water Park. She returned Saturday for its grand reopening.
Back in July, Kali contracted a rare disease called parasitic amoebic meningitis. The amoeba thrives in warm water lakes, like the one at Willow Springs. Kali has finally gotten back to the life of any other carefree kid.
"It's been a roller coaster ride...that I never wanted to be on," said Traci Hardig, Kali's mom.
Now, Kali laughs, smiles, and plays with friends. Three months ago, her family wouldn't have thought it was possible.
"She went to the hospital on a Friday," said Traci. "We were told she wouldn't make it through the weekend."
"I'm glad that I can do more stuff now...I couldn't do anything in the hospital," said Kali.
Willow Springs re-opened Saturday as a fishing hole and campsite. Kali said she would happily return to the site in the future.
"I like it here," she said. "It's where I played with my friends and swim."
The fundraiser was all intended to raise money to pay for Kali's medical bills. The day included a silent auction and a fishing competition. Local Arkansas businesses donated a variety of items to the family.
"We were so afraid for so many days that we would lose her," said Deana McPeak, Kali's aunt. "And so every moment that we have with her we just cherish now."
Kali's back in school now and trying to enjoy a typical pre-teen life.
"You can see the progress every day," said Kali's grandmother, Linda Uptigrove. "You may think she's not listening, but she will be, and she'll come back and crack a joke at you or something."
"All my prayers were answered," said Traci. "We've made it, and we're very thankful."
Traci said she's excited for her daughter to turn 13 next April. The family has a big celebration planned.
"She's a survivor," Traci said.