In November, after weeks of doctors visits, Cali Neri was diagnosed with severe encephalitis caused by Powassan virus, which is caused by tick bites.

However, it took a lot of pushing before one doctor finally ordered blood work to find out what was wrong with the North Country girl.

“At first they thought it was ADEM (acute disseminated encephalomyelitis), where your brain has encephalitis,” said Kelsey Neri, Cali’s mother. “Then they eventually did the tick testing as well, and that’s when they saw it was Powassan and not ADEM,”

The swelling in Cali’s brain has caused her to lose many body movements and the ability to speak. But Kelsey said the treatment has gone well so far and that Cali is already beating expectations.

“She can tap with her toes now,” Kelsy said. “I snored in her ear yesterday and she really used her right arm to wake me up to tell me to stop as I was cuddling with her. She’s smiling, and she’s starting to laugh which is really nice.”

The Neri’s have seen an outpouring of community support. There was the “Family Day for Cali” fundraising event in Redford, and a GoFundMe to help support the family has raised more than $16,000.

Kelsey and her husband Shawn also have an 8-month-old son named Clayton, and Kelsey said the support from the community means more than they’ll ever know. “I couldn’t imagine me and my husband having to choose who was going to stay home with him and work, and who was going to be here,” she said. “And because of the GoFundMe we haven’t, the two of us have been here with both our children every step of the way.”

Kelsey said she hopes Cali’s story will draw more awareness to Powassan virus. She said there are resources to send ticks to for testing, so people can make informed decisions on treating their yard.

Cali’s recovery will be a lifelong journey, but Kelsey is confident she will continue to beat expectations and show the world how courageous she can be.