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. john

    My God be with this beautiful young lady....

    May 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • JayS

      I hate it whenever someone mentions how "beautiful a person was" or how "strong a person's spirit is" in situations like this. Should it matter whether she was beautiful or ugly, loved or hated? This is something NO ONE should have to go through. As for strength of spirit, her chances of surviving this are as good as any heavily-sedated, barely conscious person who doesn't know the full truth about her condition would be. If she were to die, would it be because her spirit "wasn't strong enough"? How about someone who only loses one leg? are they stronger than her? NO. The sad truth is that these things happen regardless of whom the victim is, beautiful or ugly, weak or strong, and her survival will be as much of a crap shoot as anyone's chances of getting this horrible bacteria in the first place.

      May 12, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. RONALD PIERCE

    there is an incident where a man was shoot faitaly and althought the bullet was removed infection set in on his wond ... this man continously drinked alcoholand and the infections after a long period of time healed ... perhaps she should try this method bacteria cannot live in saturation of alcohol ... yeah yeah yeah i know it sounds stupid.... what do you have to lose ? what do you have to gain ? ....

    May 12, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Medium Tedium

      Then he obviously wasn't shot fatally.

      May 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. maxine

    I agree that I would not tell her about the coming amputations.

    May 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. TVannie

    I pray that this young woman survives this ordeal and fulfills her life work treating chronic pain patients. I like many around the world suffer from chronic pain. Each day for the past ten years I have faced the day knowing it would be painful and that there is a chance it will get worse, but never better. Even so, I lift my head square my shoulders and live my life. It is very different to be dependent on others, but they love me, I love them and every life is worth living. There are lessons and insights I never could have learned any other way. Hopefully Aimee will recover and be able to turn this life changing tragedy into a new insight to help others. She sounds remarkable enough to triumph over anything.

    May 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Agrav8td

    My heart goes out to this girl & her family. Where does this bacteria come from all of a sudden? In the last few years we're hearing about this flesh or muscle-eating bacteria. Where are we, in Africa?

    May 12, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • erdoc

      Necrotizing fasciitis, the infection this poor woman contracted, has been around for ever. It is rare, but can be caused by a number of bacteria that cause much more common and less serious infections...even common everyday strep that usually causes tonsillitis can, under the right conditions, develop into a life threatening infection. There is no way to predict when this will happen, and early on, diagnosis is difficult under symptoms are full-blown. The vast majority of lacerations that occur in water do not get infected. Putting someone on antibiotics prophylactically is generally bad medicine, doesnt work, and leads to antibiotic resistance. Infectious diseases can still kill people...
      Does it not bother anyone that the media has trumpeted the fact that this woman will need more amputations to the world, without her knowing and consenting to the release of medical information? If a health care professional had given such information, that person would be sanctioned both from an ethical and a legal standpoint, and rightly so.

      May 12, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Fay Riddle

    I am praying for a miracle that somehow Aimee will improve and not need further amputations. I pray for Aimee and her parents who must be going through hell right now. We have a child that age, and I'd have to be sedated to endure something like this. I admire the Copeland family for being strong for their daughter. Prayers –> Aimee.

    May 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. haarkonen

    People, stop fighting and just send this poor woman and her family your thoughts and (if appropriate) prayers. I wish her as good a recovery as is possible considering the ordeal she is undergoing. What is happening is a terrible nightmare.

    May 12, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jennifer

    I wonder if the bacteria actually came from that first hospital......I guess we'll never know and the hospital sure isn't telling! Easy to blame the bacteria in the river, who would know the difference?

    May 12, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jason

    She's pretty hot. Wonder what she's like in bed. Probably insists on condoms so she doesn't get any infections. Oh wait..

    May 12, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • abc

      And when your loved ones die in agonizing pain and rotting in the ground, remember you said this, because I'll be laughing at you, you pathetic little man.

      May 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • nomer

      Jason–SERIOUSLY?

      May 12, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Denverdriver

      How does this senseless crap get past the monitors?

      May 12, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Denverdriver

      How does this senseless crap by Jason get past the monitors?

      May 12, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kecia

      @Jason – the most insensitive comment ever posted. CNN should bar you from ever posting on their website again. You've violated the agreement and you are a disgust to humanity!

      May 12, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Hank

    EXTREME MEDICAL MALPRACTICE. High fevers/pain and they keep sending her home. Not even a legit medical history (she has lupus – immunocompromised). Because these incompetent doctors delayed blood cultures/IV antibiotics she became septic.

    May 12, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. lee

    Praying against all odds that a miracle will occur and she will not lose her remaining limbs.
    Miracles do happen hoping this will be one of them

    May 12, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Huh

    You're telling me I could catch this from shaving? What a scary thought..

    May 12, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • brntyl

      yup you better stop shaving yer nutz.......lol

      May 12, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Report abuse |
  13. CM

    Anyone else think the parents dont want her to hear about the amputations until after they're done and she can speak because they're afraid she'll ask them to pull the tubes and let her go? I'd rather be dead than limbless.

    May 12, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Dakota2000

    Well, this should serve as notice as how mortal we all are. We should be thankful for our lives, for our family and for even things we never think about.

    God does not have to be invoked here, but if it makes some people make sense of this, go for it.

    But it is enough to appreciate every day we have on this earth.

    May 12, 2012 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Hayduke

    Poor girl.

    Life can be so unfair sometimes.

    May 12, 2012 at 6:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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