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. James PDX

    For once, I can't find any humor that is appropriate. Best wishes to her and her family.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Greg

    Prayers will be with you and your family as you face this hard trial.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Angel

    What an incredible story. I've been following it for a few days now, and the progress this young woman has made is phenomenal. I will continue to keep her and her family in my prayers.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. livingdead

    Dayum that's nice tasting thigh meat.....right at the Y!!!

    May 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • azhombre

      Your a complete jerk you mental midget!!

      May 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peter

      To: lovingdead...You don't belong with humans. Take your exit. Go live with garbage and friends. You might find a friend.

      May 11, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • JoAnne

      you are one sick person. you don't deserve to breath..

      May 11, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Michael

    horrifying bacteria

    May 11, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Hooligan

    watch as protest groups pop up to ban zip lining.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stan Marsh

      You obviously haven't seen my awareness videos...

      May 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Gloria

    I send my well wishes and prayers to her and her family!

    May 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ick

    thats too bad that we have to fear our own water getting into cuts

    May 11, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Report abuse |

    Leave it to the waters just outside Atlanta. The dirtiest city in the South, bar none!

    May 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Victor Mallh

    I hope Aimee recovers from this harmful bacterial disease. My heart goes out to Aimee and her family. I wonder if our government can ever change and focus more on the important things in life such as a cleaner environment! The government spends so much money on things we don't need. Things that we can live without. Why can't we direct the focus to our environment? It will only get worse before someone decides its time for a change. My question is, Why wait for a change? Why wait for more victims? Why can't we make the necessary steps now that are needed to avoid cases such as Aimee in the future. We should act now for a cleaner tomorrow. No such parent should go through this pain watching their daughter helplessly in pain. God bless her and hope she gets all the support she needs to help her through the rough times that lay ahead.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wildmontana

      This is a naturally-occurring organism and not a sign of pollution. You're in the wrong place to get on your soapbox.

      May 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Lee Moore Jr

    Pray for this young woman. It must be a horrible and unthinkable experience. What amazes me is the ruthless people in the world who have to take a sad, serious situation and give their worthless take on this by commenting with ridiculous statements. This is the first time I have ever given my comment to cnn, but when I read on some of the comments – I just have to understand that those people are athiests, sit around and do nothing, and need to get the attention they are looking for... God speed to AIMEE and her family and friends.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. mahdeealoo

    Someone give the Drs. NEEM OIL to apply to kill the bugs.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ask Ms. Edna

    God is able to grant you courage and strength. May His healing power touch
    your body and bless you according to his will.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cocteautwin

    I wish they would inform her that they are hacking away her body! If I was able to communicate I would want to be told that they are chopping me off piece by piece and to tell them to STOP! I wouldn't want to live if all I had was my head and torso and since she's 24 she has medical rights! It doesn't even sound like she'll make it even if they chop off everything. It's horrible. I could see a leg or maybe two but my arms and hands and parts of my stomach – no....!!! RIP girl.

    May 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mick

    Hoping for the best for Aimee!

    May 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
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