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. Darrel

    Joey – You are an idiot!!!

    May 13, 2012 at 12:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. frostiken

    Sssshhheeeaaah.... if you wanted to cut off my hands and legs, I'd take a bullet to the brain instead. That's no way to live, with the bitter irony in that it's really hard to kill yourself without arms and legs.

    May 13, 2012 at 1:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. Kerry Karma

    Joey Joey. Karma brother. You're setting yourself up for a fall.

    May 13, 2012 at 2:23 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jimh77

    God bless her parents! This is going to be difficult, I have been there. Not with Flesh eating disease, my 17 year old daughter studying to be an engineer was in a car accident. Bad accident. In a coma for 7 months, all kinds of operations, plates, screws, pipes and plastics. Then total rehab. I hope God looks donw on this family, they will need it to remain complete, friends have to stay through it all or they are not friends, you will find out how much your friends are real. Been 12 years now, in the beginning, hundreds of her class mates lived at the hospital, as time went on, they all dropped off, which was OK, it was just way too long, but after and today, they have never came back to her. It will be a very tough ordeal and when this poor young woman realizes what is left of her, it will be devistating, she will need family and friends to make it. She is in the fight of her life now, this is only part one of many more to come. And the insurance companies will drop her after $215,000 for life. This happened to us after 3 months. All the rest we were responsible for. In the end, Over $45,000,000,00 in medical bills. Who can afford that? God Bless this Family. I know what they are going through and what they are about to go through and hopefully they will all be OK. Send these folks any miney you can. They will need it.

    May 13, 2012 at 2:26 am | Report abuse |
  5. luciferjr

    So did she get the virus from the zip line or her hospital emergency room visit? My guess is the hospital visit.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:02 am | Report abuse |
    • RIF

      If you read the article (reading is fundamental), it is clearly stated that the infection is a result of bacteria picked up in the water where she landed after falling off the zipline. It is bacteria that normally occurs in nature and humans are usually resistant too except for the occasional GI bug. However she had the gash on her leg and this was an opportunistic infection.

      AGAIN, I ask, how did CNN find out about this story and why is it national news? Why this girl? Why not any of the other thousands of people that have had nec fasc?

      May 13, 2012 at 3:32 am | Report abuse |
  6. billsf

    My heart goes out to this poor girl. I had mrsa in my knee many years ago and almost lost my leg and/or life. They were able to save my leg, but i went through eight days of 105 fevers. Also, six months later I got kidney cancer.
    I'm doing fine now, (one kidney later), but will never forget how painful it was. I originally got it after I shaved the back of my neck.
    It can happen to anyone. I'm thankful everyday that I still have two legs.

    May 13, 2012 at 3:12 am | Report abuse |
  7. Chucky

    I hope the rest of her still looks good.

    id hit it.

    May 13, 2012 at 5:50 am | Report abuse |
  8. SBrown

    Massive doses of intravenous vitamin C (sodium ascorbate) early on could have halted the progress of the infection and could have led ultimately to a cure. The medical establishment prefers to rely on antibiotics because that is where the pharmaceutical companies make the most money.

    May 13, 2012 at 6:18 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mi Poo

    I know hindsight is 20/20, but if they had put her on a strong dose of antibiotics at the time she was first treated would all this have been prevented? I know that overuse of antibiotics creates its own set of issues, but considering the way this injury was received (in an area with stagnant water), it would seem that caution would be prudent. I hope that this young woman has the strength to endure. Such a nightmare.

    May 13, 2012 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
    • LJ

      Aeromonas is a gram-negative bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics as it is. Probably would have taken an extremely strong antibiotic like the ones normally used for chemo. Possibly there was fear her body couldn't take such a harsh antibiotic after the trauma she suffered as well?

      May 13, 2012 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Nicole

      from my understanding she was sent home from the ER twice before this was diagnosed so the bacteria had time to really start spreading.

      May 13, 2012 at 7:53 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jojo

    My Uncle Marty fell off a zip line and he had his leg amputated too. He survvied but then he jumped out of a plane and died. Oh well.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:06 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jesus

    This happened because Aimee Copeland was not going to Church and did not pray to me. I died on the cross and all these promiscuous college girls think they can do whatever they want. Her accident happened in accordance to scripture. A piece of advice to all attractive girls out there: Kindly go to Church and pray instead of needlessly sleeping around with random men. Don't worry – God will bless Aimee in the next world. This is just the suffering she needs to go through to achieve salvation in the next world. May her soul rest in piece. Even without the legs and stuff.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. denise

    Some people clearly have no life.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rickster

    Are you referring to that blonde chick in the picture? Because I think she's still technically alive but her legs are pretty gross and stuff. But yeah, I get your drift.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  14. Samuel

    It absolutely sickens me to think people have the audacity to post such childish and insensitive things. What happened to this lady could happen to any of us. God bless her and her family. And to whoever posted as "Jesus"...I don't even have the words to show how sad and pathetic you are.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
  15. Jesus

    Samuel – I forgive you for your hostility.

    May 13, 2012 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
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