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. Tony

    Poor baby; if that were me though I would rather go in peace.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • usarmyoverlord

      I agree... Either all here or all gone.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. The1calleddoc

    Poor girl. Breaks my heart. Wishing for the best possiable outcome.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe Blow

      All things are possible, but nothing is possiable.

      May 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Josh

    "... that her hands and remaining foot also will have to be amputated soon,..."

    But it doesn't end there. It doesn't sound at all that once those amputations are done, that her life will be safe.

    Just where does one draw the line, and go from hacking off more and more of her body, to simply making her final days comfortable?

    May 11, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • BJJCA

      Perhaps they should ask HER that since she is 1) 24 years old and 2) able to communicate??? Seriously, there is some serious abridgement of patient rights happening here imho.

      May 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • krakalaka


      May 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dark Crows

      tha part that wores is she doesn't know she is 24 they are denying her the information to make an informed healthcare decision

      May 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeremiah

      So you would give up pretty easy eh?

      May 11, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      For those of you thinking she can make her own choice, you need to better understand what informed consent means. If she is on pain medication which presumably she is due to her condition, then the criteria for informed consent proves difficult. Additionally, assuming that she understands and can appropriately communicate because she can say "take it out" you are mistaken. Many patients may say things under medical influence that is not normal to their behavior and they often have no recognition. Her parents become decision makers in this case. One the tube is out and medication is off they can determine her mental capabilities. P.S. If you don't want to be in this situation make an advanced directive and choose a healthcare power of attorney that understands your wishes and will implement them.

      May 11, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mike

    "take it out" doesn't necessarily mean a fighting spirit . . . it could mean that she wants to die with dignity and control. Hopefully since she has the ability to communicate, someone has questioned her about her treatment goals.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      In fact, what is this business about her mind being intact and able to communicate, but details about her condition are being witheld from her? She is an adult, but is certainly not being treated like one. If she wants to fight, fine, but it dang well should be HER choice given that she is evidently capable of communication and a clear mind.

      May 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • BJJCA

      THIS. She is TWENTY FOUR years old! She has the right to informed consent! She is cognizant and able to communicate! What are they thinking?

      May 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • atxitmom

      I was thinking the same thing, Mike. Who wants to live with no limbs? Why isn't she being consulted? My heart breaks for her, and her family, in this horrible situation.

      May 11, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • rachel

      I totally agree with you. I think she wants the feeding tube out so she can make her own decisions.

      May 11, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. realistic

    She will survive and go on to finish her degree. It will change her outlook on life but she will no doubt help someone down the road.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dark Crows

      well no one is asking her are they /
      she is 24 its her choice what she wants to do

      May 11, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Josh

    I do not believe in heaven and hell, but what this girl is enduring in my concept of hell on earth. Talk about drawing a cr*p hand in life...I hope for the best outcome possible, whatever that might be at this point. Sad stuff indeed.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • athiest

      I could not ever believe in a god when people suffer like this... especially innocent babies... what kind of sick twisted being would create a world with pain and suffering like this and then just let it happen. If there is a supreme being, he truly is the sickening child with a magnifying glass at the top of the anthill we call earth. You sick twisted bastage.

      May 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
  7. V

    my 39 yr old cousin died of necrotizing fasciitis after a c-section-I pray for this young woman and hope that she can recover.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Scottish Mama

    I think we have come a long way in acceptence of someone missing a part of their body. I think with all the young men and women coming home from war with amputated limbs we will be more supportive and more compassionate.

    May 11, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Pete McNeal

    Has anyone even bother to check that maybe she got the infection at the hospital while getting her wound stapled instead of the zip lining like what the article or everyone assumes?

    May 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anarkist4d2

      They said the zip line caused the injury, not the disease, and I'm sure there is no way of knowing where she actually caught it. At this point that's not really the issue.

      May 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      I bet you're right. More people get infections IN the hospital after getting treated for something else than outside of it. Especially after a surgical procedure. A dear family friend went in for appendicits and ended up dying form a blood infection she developed immediately after her operation. She went in for one thing and ended up dying (while still in the hospital) from something else. Hospitals are cesspools of bacteria – airborne, and from people and instruments.

      May 11, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leigh Ann Patterson

      I agree with you totally on this. My step mother went in for surgery in a houston area hospital and came out with the flesh eating disease. Hospital claimed they had been seeing more cases of it. She got hers from the hospital. It's highly contagious.Many months of healing and she was told how she could end up losing a limb and it did spread but they caught it early and treated it vigorously with special antibiotics. I would guess it wasn't cleaned enough prior to closure like you said. I think Aimee's hospital took to long in diagnosing and is why it's so severe now. Hospital are very infectious place. Wow, I feel bad for this girl. Need more awareness on hospital and infections you can get from them.

      May 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  10. t

    this is heartbreaking. What a living nightmare for that woman.

    May 11, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Seth Colton

    So, all this started when the zip line broke, cutting a gash in her calf and allowing the flesh-eating bacteria to enter the wound. She is taken to the hospital where the the wound is closed with 22 staples but no measures were taken to sterilize the wound or flush it with drugs to kill the bacteria. The bacteria was left to incubate and spread throughout her body. Finally, after her 3rd or 4th trip back to the same hospital, a doctor identifies the problem. Looks a lot like medical incompetency to me. After all, she wasn't in Borneo or the murky bogs of the Amazon. This bacteria was right there in Georgia and risk of its being in the wound was highly likely; something that the doctors should have known!
    I pray for her and her family. Such an unbelievable tragedy for this poor girl and her family!

    May 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      zip line didn't break. she fell off of it the 2nd attempt

      May 11, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lilbit

      The article does not say that she went back to the hospital 3 or 4 times before being diagnosed with the bacteria.The first time she returned to the hospital 4 days after her initial injury she was diagnosed and sent to the hospital in Agusta for surgery and further treatment. Also the zip line did not cause the infection but rather she sustained a large gash in her leg after falling from the broken zip line. She could just as easily have picked up the infection from the ground/rocks where she was initially injured as from the hospital where she was first treated.

      May 11, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • TVannie

      What makes you think no measures were taken to sterilize the wound before it was closed? I doubt very much that a hospital staffer, closed a very large wound with 22 staples without bothering to make sure it was clean. I realize that since there is a horrible infection something went wrong or was not properly cleaned but to state that no effort was made to clean the wound seems very unlikely.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. BJJCA

    Wait, wait, wait! She is 24. She is old enough to make informed decisions about her health care. They legally have no right to make those choices for her if she is at all aware of what is happening, which her communication indicates she is, and she is mature and old enough to know.

    I hate to say it, but I think they are being (completely understandably) selfish. They need to tell her about the impending loss of her hands and other foot, and let her decide WITH them whether she wants to live like that. They need to fully appreciate and articulate to her the life she is going to have... IF she lives, which remains in doubt. If her lungs and heart are affected and it started in her leg, then this is an extremely rapid and aggressive invasive infection. There are no guarantees that she will live at all.

    May 11, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Alex

      Reply to BJJCA: I totally agree with you! SHE should be told the truth and given the option to continue to be chopped up or leave her alone – IF she had a fighting chance. She may be a fighter, but I believe her parents know that she will most likely not survive and don't want to add any more undue stress to an already dismal situation.

      May 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Cannot agree with you more that it is a completely selfish decision on their (parents) part–if she said "no, I don't want to live w/out my hands and feet keep them on and if I die, I die" they would be beside themselves and they are not willing to let her have that power. As a parent though, I'd do the same thing. Probably wrong, but I couldn't let my child die when he/she could be saved and lead a relatively "normal" life by today's standards.

      May 13, 2012 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dingus McNoogle III

    Take off all my limbs but leave my weiner intact!

    May 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ah292801

    You do realize that your hatred of someone based on their political ideology is not appropriate?

    May 11, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Fran182

    I agree with Seth Colton, Josh and Mike. This woman is not being treated like the adult she is. She is 24, and no one has any right to withhold details about her condition from her. If she is of sound mind, she has the right to know everything about her situation and make decisions about treatment and outcome herself. This is absolutely devastating for all involved, but tell her the truth.

    May 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      if you want your voice to be heard in these kinds of accidents, the file a living will. without it on file, its up to doctor and family

      May 11, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
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