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. zaphod

    That is why I fond many southerners move to the north in order to find good living conditions. I will never move to aouthern GOP state . I rather immigrate to zimbabway.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Chaka Kahn

    I think those two cute little blonde girls should be breast fed back to health, and he died doing what he loves, and that I hope Travolta is not a gay groper, gosh he can find male escorts that don't snitch, and I want to drink some of that too, I bet a White Russian made from dat 26 year old mama's little bittie boobie tastes awesome, three thumbs up...uh, thats not a third thumb......where the hell did that airplane come from????....CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND MUSIC HERE

    May 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. James

    how can father not tell his 24 yrs old daughter the truth about her medical condition. This isn't fighting spirit. he is lying to her and her doctors should be sued for failing to discuse her medical condition with her so that she could make an informed decision.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
  4. PumpNDump

    Can the godsquad wingnuts please S T F U. You're utterly rediculous. The whole "god" & "jesus' thing, a total myth.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Vic

      right......well lets just say IT IS true...when your standing up there before God Don't beg for mercy when he sends you too hell because you disowned him your whole life.....just a thought

      May 12, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sonomamama

    Amazing how many of these discussions end up being Christian bashing sessions for small-minded people who just want to see their ugly comments in writing.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cavs92

      Far uglier and small minded are the christians who say this is terrible injury and suffering is still part of the plan of an all powerful and all loving god. Such sentiments are simply self consoling and self absorbed. A god who could stop that and chose not to is monstrous. And to think that such an act would 'violate free will' forgets all the parlor tricks god was happy to do in the new testament and elsewhere – such as feeding those who needed an afternoon snack with loaves and fish. If that was not a violation, then saving this girl and regrowing her limbs should not be a violation.

      May 12, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • illmatico

      Very well said.

      May 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bob Lewis

      Spare us your sanctimonious martyrdom, The bloody history of Christianity makes all other evil look like rank amateurs. Your religion is responsible for immeasurable suffering and any bashing is well deserved.

      May 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Gordon Gonzler

    Until & unless she can receive limb transplants or cosmetically correct bionics, she will never recover. Folks don't just "recover" from being amputated. We have much work to do before she (and folks like her) can truly recover!

    May 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Cavs92

    A terrible injury and my heart goes out to her and her family. The very sad truth is that this is simply not recoverable. She likely has something called DIC, which stands for Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation, which occurs in patients with devastating infection and injury and it is almost always fatal. The clotting system stops acting normally which is why her fingers and hands are dying as the blood supply shuts off. But this also makes one prone to terrible bleeding elsewhere as the clotting factors become consumed and so you cannot simply thin the blood with medicine. And the clots do not just happen in the hands, often this will kill off the kidneys and then you are talking life long dialysis. For a patient with no limbs. I would say that is a fate worse than death.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Doug

    Paul, you have absolutely no idea how the microbe world works. Maybe it was on a leaf that her leg grazed by? On someone's hand? On the car seat? Floating around after a strong wind gust? Your comments are ridiculous.

    May 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. SciGuy73

    Don't thank God. Thank the Doctors, science and medicine without which she would already be gone.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • rafael

      Read Cavs92, above. I'm not sure it is appropriate to thank anyone.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. KMD

    Read the article moron. The bacteria causing this is found in fresh water. She cut her leg on the zip line and the wound came into contact with fresh water resulting in a horrible infection. Necrotizing fasciitis is incredibly difficult to treat and is often fatal. Her condition has nothing to do with the hospital "infecting" her.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jeremy

    What is a staff infection?

    May 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. elsemat

    What's with all the caps lock buddy? Get a life, and learn to spell. Also, do some research. Sure, lots of bacteria exist in hospitals and can infect patients. But this was not a nosocomial infection. She picked up some bacteria from a cut due to the zipline fall. Then she was complaining of pain for days after... Not the hospital's fault here.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mick

    I am sorry, but if it were me and my parent withheld the news that I would be losing another limb, I would be furious. At that point, I would refuse any further treatment to go ahead and die. I could not stand to live like that. I am lucky at current to be in remission from a disease that I have, but as I have already let my wife know, if it ever comes back, I do not want treatment to have to live another portion of my life in misery. I know after her recovery, misery will ensue.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • J R Brown

      With your outlook, you might as well just go ahead and end it sense waiting for the inevitabe.

      There is a world of difference between this girl and you...

      May 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Rob

    Nope Doug, I'm with Paul – I'm not with your speculations that a bacteria somehow survived daylight/UV rays for some unknown amount of time – it usually does not happen that way. Hospitals, however, are full of sick people, bacteria, viruses and all kinds of nasty little pathogens. Worse, because of inaccurate and overused antibiotics, these little pathogens have mutated and become stronger and more vicious. You won't find people with stronger pathogens in the woods or out on a zip line – but you will find them in a hospital. I would be looking to seel off areas in the hospital where this poor girl was treated and get them tested asap.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. pinkbluebutterflies

    I pray for this lady to be healed, she has a strong spirit. I really hope that she recovers.

    May 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
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