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. dEM

    I am sorry, but why why why keeping her alive?
    Young beautiful girl to live without legs and arms? Call me whatever you like, but death is a release here.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thomas Reed

      I was thinking the same thing. I know if I was in that postion I'd hope to god my family would pull the plug, and I've got a DNR to back it up.

      May 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. 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 4:58 pm | Report abuse |

    It's times like these..... And I thought I was unlucky.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mission possible

    Need a BIG FAITH and PRAY together especially from her family. I will pray for her too for MIRACLE that happen to me few months ago. Nothing is big and impossible for JESUS CHRIST the saviour. Lord Jesus please heal this girl without any surgery. Your Glory will be heared by everybody. Amen.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      Perhaps you should ask your Jesus Christ why something like this happens to a 24 year old girl.

      May 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • FrozenChosen

      Is this the same God that injured her, that you are praying will heal her?

      May 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • sigh

      Jesus Christ should have stopped that zip line from breaking then huh...or killed off the bacteria, but oh wait he created flesh eating bacteria for what purpose exactly? Be nice if he stopped that plane from smashing into the side of the mountain the other day too, or the other billion people that are suffering this very instant.

      Heart breaking story none the less. Hopefully more breakthroughs will continue that allow us to heal and cure the injured.

      May 11, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • NoJee

      How the heck is this fake Jesus, God, and Miracle stuff supposed to help this young girl? Get real, folks. This is a freak accident and no amount of praying to some imaginary being in the sky is going to help this girl.

      May 11, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Muhammad Khan

    God bless you sister aimee, from now on I will keep you in my prayers.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. PattyCake

    How sad for this girl and her family....Life sure is strange sometimes. Hope that she will heal both physically and mentally. That is a lot to deal with at any age, let alone 24 years old. Good Luck

    May 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. AJ

    i feel for this girl and her family. i wouldn't want this to happen to anyone. its unfortunate that if this young woman was not attractive and white we would not be hearing about it. how many times have we seen an article about a person of color in pain and agony? if you came up with a number that proves my point.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug

      Your comment has no relevance. Don't use her story as a platform to complain about racism.

      May 11, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • M

      Yes, that's what this is about....race. Keep your ridiculous comments to yourself.

      May 11, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • dan

      i agree !

      May 11, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • another AJ


      May 11, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jim

    What's wrong with this sentence??!?!?

    "'We know, honey, you've got a tube down your throat.'"

    Man sounds like Richard Nixons Deep throat.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |

    well, if she is a massochist, this could be the ultimate gift from heaven.

    She'll enjoy being so vulnerable without her limbs. She'll be feebly dependent as her massochistic fantasies dictate.

    Now if she's a sadist....

    May 11, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. mike

    The whole "fighting spirit" thing may be comforting to the father, but this is horrible for this young woman. I would honestly prefer to have just died in the accident. How did it get this far without anyone noticing?

    May 11, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • BOB

      Take 2: Read the article, this time for understanding.

      May 11, 2012 at 5:20 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Lesley Dean-Jones

    Nearly 18 years ago my 3 year old son had chicken pox. He contracted a "flesh-eating" staph infection through one of the lesions on his face. He had to have 2 complete blood transfusions because the blood was clotting in his veins. The doctor mainlined a continuous stream of 4 antibiotics and an anti-viral (the chicken pox had spread to his liver) into his femoral artery. At one point we were told he only had a 10% chance of making it through the night, and that if he did survive he would at the very least lose the sight in one eye. Thanks to the heroic doctors and nurses at the hospital he survived with all his faculties intact, and has hardly had a day's illness since. When I read stories like this I still feel the visceral terror I did when he was ill. I don't think we should criticize the actions of Aimee's parents even if we think we'd do something different ourselves. They know and love their daughter more than we do and are suffering terribly themselves.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. J.W.

    My sister experienced the same infection 2 years ago. She was effected while giving birth in a hosptal. Apparently someone or something was infected with some version of staph and it came in contact with my sister. It was the scariest week of our lives because this infection speads by the second. We didnt know how far it was going to go..

    She essentially had it in her stomcah area and it was eating at her tissue. the hospital (which we current have a lawsuit against) did act very fast to control it and it did stop from spreading.

    There are miracles and horror stories that stem from this infection. My advise to the family is pray and know everyhting that the Doctors are doing, THERE IS LIFE AFTER THIS!!!


    May 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • NotanexpertbutIstayedHIexpress

      So you are suing the hospital that reacted quickly and saved your sister's life. Nothing says thank you like a law suit. And people wonder why healthcare costs so much.

      May 11, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. PZ

    Hope she gets well soon.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jim

    JESUS will come to her and rescue if you wish to. But he can....

    May 11, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dave Goldberg

    So you don't want to tell your daughter that she's going to lose all of her limbs, so you tell CNN about it. I'm going to give this poor parent a pass here, since he might not be thinking straight. Somethings are best kept among family and close friends. You put this story on CNN and it becomes like the "dog faced" boy at the fair, everyone just wants to gawk at it. You know maybe she doesn't want the whole world to pay attention to her right now.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Report abuse |
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