The 12-year-old survivor of a rare brain-eating amoeba returned for the first time Monday to the water park near Little Rock where she is believed to have contracted the parasite.
Kali Hardig visited Willow Springs Water Park, where the owner announced a fundraiser on the girl’s behalf, along with new plans for the park.
Kali is only the third known survivor of an infection by an amoeba known as Naegleria fowleri. On her first trip back to the park, she walked down to the pond. She said she was excited to return for one reason.
"Because I have a lot of fun here with my friends," she told Little Rock television station KATV.
"I’m real proud of her," Kali’s mother, Traci Hardig, told the station. "I didn’t know what to expect, if she would be nervous or afraid to go down there or what, so I’m real happy that she wanted to go down and see the fish."
The water park has been closed since Kali became sick, but the owners have now decided to re-open the facility — not as a water park but as a family fishing spot. The pond has been stocked with catfish and there also will be space for camping, boat storage and an RV park.
"There’s been people coming out here for 85 years. There’s so many stories and so many memories, and we want people to be able to come back and enjoy the park in some fashion," owner David Ratliff said.
Traci Hardig said she wants the revamped park to succeed. She said she wanted the public to know that her family holds no hard feelings.
"I want them to know that it’s OK to come out here," she said "They’re just a family trying to survive … and this was their livelihood. They wouldn’t have hurt my daughter for anything. This has nothing to do with them."
A fishing tournament and fall festival are scheduled for Oct. 26 at the park, with all proceeds going to the Hardig family.
"We want to raise as much money as we can possibly raise. Every single penny’s going to the family," Ratliff said.