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. elizabeth

    I hope that Aimee Copeland continues to improve and that the worst case scenarios, in which additional amputations are required, do not come to pass. It sounds pretty definite though. Thank G-d she has a supportive family to help her. It sounds like her dad is watching out for her best interests, ans she has friends who have helped out, too. I truly wish every good thing for Aimee as she struggles to beat this.

    May 11, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Avy

    Let's face the reality. If I would have been in that situation, I would rather die. That's the perfect solution when you lost all of your limbs.
    They are making her life more difficult. Do they want her to die everyday? She won't even be able to commit suicide if she wants.
    I am being thoughtful not emotional.

    May 11, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • mark ilvedson

      I am with you on this... It's a horrible tragedy. One I personally would not wish to survive.

      May 12, 2012 at 1:57 am | Report abuse |
  3. Remekai

    May the Merciful Lord have mercy upon her soul. We all pray for her deliverance from the hands of the devil. God b with u, always.

    May 11, 2012 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. m500?

    such a tragedy to endure. my heart is breaking for u n ur family. may in the grand scheme of things, the positive will always be shining onto you and yours. accept all my best.

    May 11, 2012 at 11:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Chuck

    Aimee, I'm praying for you and your family.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:09 am | Report abuse |
    • elol324

      May the Almighty look upon you and your family; and do His will ... my prayers & thought are with you ...

      May 12, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  6. pinelopi

    This hits home as my mom had aml leukiemia and on her last treatment she got the flesh eating disease and with no immune system left from chemo there was nothing that could be done and she was put into a medical induced coma and passed away a few days later. The doctors had to as the pain from her flesh being eaten away was unbearable and we did not want her to go through that, I am so thankful that she no longer had to feel that pain.
    I hope and wish the best for this young girl, but she may need to know what she faces and be let to make a decision on how much she wants to go through and be cut up and she most likely won't make it anyhow, how aweful, god speed an we pray for the best for her.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  7. Muhammad

    That's insane to know bacteria like that is still around

    May 12, 2012 at 1:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      It exists in the wild. How exactly do you think it should have been eliminated??

      May 12, 2012 at 2:50 am | Report abuse |
  8. ian

    maybe she should have watched south park, zip lining is awful

    May 12, 2012 at 1:26 am | Report abuse |
  9. Robin

    God Bless you Aimee. I will be praying for you.

    May 12, 2012 at 2:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Luna Lovegood

      That's a really sweet thing to say :)
      I'll be praying for her too.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:25 am | Report abuse |
  10. J F

    Why is this national news? This happens (sadly) all the time in hospitals and those patients don't make CNN. Why is this girl different. What about the 50yr old grandmother in PA that lost both her legs below the knee and both hands last year from nec fasc? Not young or pretty enough?

    May 12, 2012 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
    • meandlia

      Why are you so bitter? Because she was one of millions who has been hit by this horrid disease she somehow doesn't qualify for you because she's pretty and young? I suppose your computer is your only friend... I am sorry the many others who have been hit by this unforgiving bacteria have not gotten the nations (possibly the worlds) attention as Aimee has – maybe next time we can call CNN, just to satisfy YOUR desire to make sure all the "other" people you see fit should also get top billing... it has nothing to do with Aimee's looks or age and it's a sad person who thinks it does. This child may not make, it (yes, to me she is still a child), she has lost so much and yet I am sure if she lives she will smile in the face of her adversities – as I am certain you are unfamiliar with such a character trait in yourself by the looks of your comment. We find strength in others; hope, faith to face our greatest challenges when all seems lost... this is a story of that hope and faith. That even if she does not make it, the fight was not in vain. Focus on that, not on the petty idea that somehow her age and beauty somehow warranted a story-line – because often the beauty we see is not external, but found within, it is there we see Aimee. Good Day.

      May 12, 2012 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Bryan

      Your absolutely right man. However come to terms with the country we live in. All about Greed, which has turned itself into these days, advertising. Now everything really boils down to advertising. Magazines, tv, movies, the money is in the few seconds of commercials, and the pages of advertisements. This story brings in good ratings, the grandmother might not have.

      It is a sick sick country.

      May 12, 2012 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • stumpage

      Seriously...What the F*** is wrong with you?

      May 12, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  11. smith

    sorry this happened to you. you're in my thoughts.

    May 12, 2012 at 3:45 am | Report abuse |
  12. Pat Gatti

    This makes ANYTHING look small........I just can't imagine anything worse......including the pain of everyone around her.

    My problems are simply no big deal!

    May 12, 2012 at 6:52 am | Report abuse |
  13. donny

    sad storey

    May 12, 2012 at 7:17 am | Report abuse |
  14. Miley Cyrus

    Aimee, be strong! I'll be praying for you.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
  15. Larry

    You are in my prayers. It really hits home being from the West Ga area. May God bless you and your family through this difficult tme and may He heal you.

    May 12, 2012 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
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