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. Su Lynn

    You would not be cutting off more of my body parts. My quality of life does not include being a "Weeble", and no I am not being sarcastic. Her parents should be consulting her, because she's the one who has to live with the results.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ShawnDH

    Jerry the milk imagined: "JESUS can heal people less than second without operating surgery. He places a healing palm on people. He can cure the blind, sick, disable, etc. He knows how to save the economy. He knows how to make life better."

    JESUS was a liberal socialist community activist carpenter who lived 2,000 years ago and he didn't help this poor girl, did he.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Roger Ogilvy Thornhill

    very sad

    May 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Rick

    DNR ...the next time..

    May 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Captain Obvious

    That would suck to go from being a hot chick to being a stump.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dean

      Dude not a cool comment, how about this happen to you...
      Get well soon babe

      May 11, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • A- Hole

      What a d-bag thing to say. I hope your limbs have to get amputated.

      May 11, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • JAC

      Change your name from Captain Obvious to Captain Oblivious. You're a callous jerk!

      May 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bman

      YOU are a brain dead a$$wipe. Go roll another one....'Dude'

      May 11, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ali

    Oral and IV antibiotics cannot penetrate the fascia and so therefore will not be helpful for necrotisizing fascitis. The main treatment is surgery.
    For the herbal ppl out there, she would be dead by now if she tried that instead, because not only does that not penetrate those tissues it's not efficacious even if it did.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. pmn

    My heart goes out to the family. So young with a whole life ahead of her and to go through something so tragic is heartbreaking. May she be blessed to pull this ordeal and live a full life.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. billsf

    Wow. My heart really goes out to this poor girl.
    I got mrsa from shaving the back of my neck eight years ago. It got into my bloodstream and settled in my left knee and the pain was indescribable. The drs. said I may lose my leg and the pain was so bad, I said that was fine. Fortunately, after eight days of 105 fevers, I recovered, but it was followed by a four month bout of pneumonia and cancer in one of my kidneys.
    If you ever get severe joint pain, seek help immediately. It's the reason I still have two legs today.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • pmn

      You are blessed to be here. I know someone who had a simliar ordeal from a cut on the beach. Changed his entire life. Did not lose a limb but hospitalized for quite a while. He had slight brain damage.

      May 11, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. cleareye1

    We should all support the parents and family of this courageous young woman as she fights for her life. No one is better prepared to control the events of her care than they are. If she survives she will have the opportunity to contribute her special experience's result with others that need to share with her their own setbacks. People that make it through a challenge like this are special indeed.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  10. barry art

    For those of you bashing comments about having a choice between life and death- your ignorance toward self dignity and personal freedoms are made very clear by your opinions. Every human being should have the choice of being euthanized, if so desired. Your opinions on life and the importance of life should in no way affect the autonomy of any particular individual or the ability that one has to make their own decisions. How can you justify forcing someone to live in pain and distress? Encouraging them to do so is one thing, but when you force someone by law to suffer, it just shows how ignorant you really are.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jerry the milk

    Jesus was only choice. He can heal.... OMG where is this man?

    May 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill D.

      Hate to break it to you but "HE'S" been on "vacation" for about 2012 years.
      Find another "rabbit's foot."

      May 11, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |

    Fighting.struggling spirit.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  13. C.S.

    Did she have private medical insurance? Will it cover all her medical expenses? I see the family is asking for donations, so this concerns me. And it's why you never know if you will need exorbitant medical care costs. Hope she survives!

    May 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. onestarman

    It is highly unlikely that this poor young woman contracted this Infection on her 'Outing' – she got it where MOST really scary – life threatening infections are Harbored – at the Hospital.

    May 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • b2ux

      exactly i just saw your post this is so true its a dirty hospital ...staff is the most comon infection hospitals spread its pathitic and they should be held responsible for all medical costs and compansation for her losses ......

      May 11, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  15. bloodymess

    Daddy doesn't have to tell her that her limbs are coming off, she'll find out when she reads it at

    May 11, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
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