May 11th, 2012
01:46 PM ET

Victim of flesh-eating bacteria is showing ‘fighting spirit,’ dad says

A University of West Georgia graduate student who lost one limb and will probably lose parts of others to flesh-eating bacteria is mouthing words to her family and showing a "fighting spirit," her father said Friday.

Aimee Copeland is fighting for her life at an Augusta hospital after her left leg and part of her abdomen were removed last week. She contracted the infection after injuring her calf in a zip line accident 10 days ago.

"I would say that she has more commands than questions right now," Andy Copeland told "CNN Newsroom," saying his daughter’s breathing tube was repositioned so her parents could read her lips. "'I can’t talk,' was what she said. And we said, 'We know, honey, you've got a tube down your throat.'

"She said, 'Then take it out.' So her fighting spirit is obviously shining through right now.'

Aimee, 24, contracted the bacteria - Aeromonas hydrophila - during an outing with friends near the Little Tallapoosa River, about 50 miles west of Atlanta, on May 1, her family has said. She fell when a homemade zip line she was using snapped, and she gashed her left calf.

The family has said she sought medical treatment for the wound and received 22 staples to close it, according to CNN affiliate WSB. But on May 4, after she complained of pain for days, a friend took her to an emergency room, and she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis and flown to Augusta for surgery. She went into cardiac arrest after being removed from the operating table, but was resuscitated, CNN affiliate WGCL reported.

Her father wrote in an Internet post Thursday that her hands and remaining foot also will have to be amputated soon, because blood vessels there have died as the disease has spread. He said Friday that Aimee doesn’t yet know about these next amputations.

"There’s no way I would reveal that to her in her current state. I believe that it would just traumatize her further," he said, adding that a psychiatrist at the hospital will tell her when she's able to talk.

Andy Copeland wrote Thursday that Aimee shows no sign of brain damage and that a doctor said her lungs are healing. On Friday, he told CNN the road ahead for Aimee will be difficult.

"It's obvious (that) if you’re missing one limb, it's going to be hard enough. But if you're missing all of your limbs, it’s going to be incredibly difficult," he said. "But I guess I want everybody to know is that she’s not alone. She’s got her family to support her in this, and not just us."

Thousands of people have connected with a Facebook page that the family also is using to update her progress.

"She's got the support of the entire world right now. And that's really what's humbled us greatly in this entire process, just knowing that everybody's looking at Aimee and praying for Aimee and just offering their undying support. For that, we'll be eternally grateful."

Aimee Copeland, of Snellville, Georgia, is a graduate psychology student at the University of West Georgia and was scheduled to complete her master's degree in the fall, school spokeswoman Yolanda Rodriguez said.

On Thursday night, a couple dozen students and faculty members attended a vigil for her in a building that houses the school’s psychology department.

"Despite the fact that medical evidence says she should be dead, she isn't. I think that’s what makes it so precious to so many people, to see how amazing she really is," Chris Aanstoos, a University of West Georgia professor, told WSB on Thursday.

Dr. Buddy Creech, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, said that Aeromonas hydrophila, found in water and elsewhere in the environment, is one of many bacteria that can cause a flesh-eating process.

"When it gets into those deeper tissues, it has a remarkable ability to destroy the tissues that surround it in sort of this hunt for nutrition," Creech said Friday. "When it does that, those tissues die, and you see the inflammation and the swelling and the destruction that can be very difficult to control."

Creech said Aeromonas hydrophila more commonly affects humans when it is swallowed - resulting in diarrhea. When young children or children with immune problems drink water with the bacteria, "they can get a very significant diarrhea illness from it," he said.

"It’s much more uncommon that we see it in (a case like Copeland's), where we see wounds get infected and the infection runs wild,” Creech said.

soundoff (694 Responses)
  1. Scottish Mama

    Fight on. Now if the religious would say a pray. Agnostic Scottish.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Edwin

      Hopes, prayers, whatever... send your good will in any form.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. banasy©

    I sincerely hope this young lady recovers.

    May 11, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Duane

    I don't know you Aimee but if you ever see this fight on!!! Live a strong and happy healthy life.....

    May 11, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
  4. lisaspups

    Hang in there, kiddo. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ethics Board

    Sad. Bad things happen to good people.

    "He said Friday that Aimee doesn’t yet know about these next amputations." This is unfortunate though. Having to wake up and realize she is missing a limb and having no idea why is not a better approach.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kaden

      It clearly says a psychiatrist would tell her as soon as she can talk.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Me

      He didn't say she won't be told. He said he won't tell her in her current state. But, since her current state does not look like it will get better fast, someone will have to tell her soon. If they put off the amputations, then more tissue will die. This young lady has such a long road to go down. I wish I could go talk to her and hold her and just try to make her feel better somehow.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Kenneth

    I had MRSA staff infection in my groan area it ate two gold ball size holes in me.. if i did not get to the hospital when i did i think i would be dead.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kaden

    “remarkably common in the water and in the environment.” – Then why on this earth, is it so difficult to cure? Medicine seems far behind the times. This is a tragedy and I feel sadness for this young woman. God help her.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • guest1

      Most likely because it isn't a common enough infection in humans for the drug companies to develop a antibiotic. No profits = no cure.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • realistic

      They can't even cure the common cold.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  8. the_dude

    I am don't believ in god or religion. The only inspiring thing I can say is get well get well soon we want you to get well.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Texas

    My brother survived this about 10 years ago. His heart stopped after one of his surgeries, his kidneys stopped working and his feet turned black for the lack of blood flow and thought they would have to be amputated. Eventually his kidneys began to function after a few months of dialysis.. he has scars from the surgeries but after a month in ICU, two months in a regular room, he walked out of the hospital. It was a long and painfull process but it can happen. Prayers to Aimee and her family.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • t

      may God have mercy on her

      holy F

      May 11, 2012 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Richard

    Prepare your website for multiple denial of service attacks, spammer.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • ok nEWBIE


      May 11, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. paul

    -A truly heart-breaking story, but unfortunately more proof that the best chance for longevity and health is to stay AWAY from the hospital.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. ncct

    yes, the bacterial species is remarkably common but infection with it is not. more likely to cause diarrhea when ingested. this young lady got necrotizing fasciitis and/or myonecrosis due to deep inoculation of a wound with Aeromonas. It is an uncommon type of infection and regardless of the bacteria causing it (and there are many that can), antibiotics play some role but the cure comes from the immediate application of a surgeon's cold hard steel. Best wishes to this young lady – youth and vigor is on her side.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Steve

    Whether you are religious or not, send your thoughts and prayers to this brave girl. I am frankly not sure if I could handle being carved up like that. This girl has all the love and respect and hopes for a recovery that I can muster. Necrotizing Fascitis is a bacteria that exists in ALL of us. It is similar to strep throat, and generally held off by our immune systems. No one knows why it suddenly becomes deadly, but the potential for this happening to any one of us due to even a small scratch is very real, and there is no known medication that can stop it, once it starts. Sometimes it kills. Sometimes it doesn't. Count your blessings every day that you aren't one of the victims, and hope for the best for those that are.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • kelly warren

      You are mistaken. necrotiing faciitis is a diagnosis, not a bacteria. Furthermore the causal bacteria is not found in all of us. I am a physician.

      May 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • jakewinn

      Steve, here is a more accurate portrayal of what this young women is enduring–I'm a doctor and I know what I'm talking about. Aeromonas hydrophilia is extremely common in stagnant water, yet rarely causes infection of any sort in humans. I could only find 8 case reports in the literature of NF caused by A. hydrophilia and almost all of them were older, immunocompromised patients. Also, A. hydrophilia is a gram negative rod and not even remotely related to group A strep as you suggested. If I had seen this patient and had known that her wound had been exposed to stagnant water I would have immediately placed her on broad-spectrum antibiotics and made sure she understood the importance of promptly returning to the hospital if there was increasing pain, redness, fever or other signs of infection since at the time there probably wasn't any reason to admit her. As far as her status now, A. hydrophilia is usually susceptible to just about any class of antibiotics, but once it progresses to NF then debridement/amputation is the only real hope. It will be nothing short of a miracle if she survives as mortality is around 100% for patients who develop sepsis and/or NF from this bug–this has nothing to do with antibiotic resistance as some suggested, this bug is simply highly virulent once it sets up shop in your body. Without knowing more, it is hard to assign blame to the physicians who initially treated her but I'm sure they are doing their best and keep Aimee and her loved ones in your thoughts and prayers–they are going to need it.

      May 11, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Shmeckell

    I really wish I never found this story, this is horrible.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Parker

    Fight on Aimee!

    May 11, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
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