Inspiration Of A Young Woman Fighting To Live

Despite flesh-eating bacteria, young woman’s future is bright.

After falling from a homemade zipline and cutting her leg, 24-year-old Aimee Copeland contracted a rare flesh-eating bacterial infection that has claimed one of her legs. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports and TODAY’s Ann Curry talks with her parents, Andy and Donna, about Aimee’s recovery.

By Rita Rubin

The parents of Aimee Copeland, the 24-year-old Georgia woman whose leg was amputated after contracting flesh-eating bacteria, told TODAY Monday they are optimistic about their daughter’s recovery. They have been communicating with her and she has begun to rely less on her respirator.

“We were able to communicate with her through lip reading, which we’re becoming quite proficient at at this point.,” her father Andy Copeland told Ann Curry Monday.

Their daughter has a breathing tube down her throat, but is looking forward to being able to eat again, especially her favorite food: ice cream, her father told TODAY.

The flesh-eating infection that led to the amputation of one of the young Georgia woman’s legs was caused by a bacteria found in freshwater lakes and rivers. Even a wound as minor as a tiny scratch or cut can serve as the starting point of the bacterial infection called necrotizing fasciitis, according to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation. On its website, the Wisconsin Division of Public Health says an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 cases occur in the United States each year, resulting in 2,000 to 3,000 deaths.

Aimee will lose her fingers on both hands but doctors hope to save the palms of her hands, which would make it easier for her to use prosthetics, according to TODAY. She may also lose her right foot. She remains in critical condition in the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, hospital spokeswoman Stacey Snyder said.

Dad Andy Copeland, who lives with his wife, Donna, in Spartanburg, S.C., has been sharing her roller-coaster progress on blog posts and Facebook.

Almost two weeks ago, the University of West Georgia psychology grad student was kayaking with friends in the Little Tallapoosa River when she stopped to try a homemade zip line. She fell from the line and suffered a deep gash to her left leg, which required 22 staples to close.

Story: Woman fights for life after losing leg to flesh-eating bacteria

Over the following days, her pain increased and she was given antibiotics and an MRI. On May 4, a friend carried her to the ER and she was finally was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection that breaks down muscle and fat and can lead to organ failure. The bacteria that infected Copeland is a bug called Aeromonas hydrophila.

Copeland reportedly was recently diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, which might help explain why she became critically ill with an infection most would shrug off, says Dr. Chaim Putterman, chief of rheumatology at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “It’s not only the bug,” Putterman told TODAY.com, but the interaction between the bug and the host, or patient.

In 2008, he coauthored a report about eight lupus patients hospitalized with necrotizing fasciitis at his hospital. Two of them died. Putterman says both lupus itself and the treatment for it could increase patients’ risk of necrotizing fasciitis.

“Many of the medications that we use to treat lupus patients are what we call immunosuppressants,” says Putterman, who is not involved in Copeland’s case. “Increased infection is one of the known prices we pay for those medications.”

In addition, in autoimmune diseases such as lupus, “the immune system is out of whack,” Putterman says. So even without taking drugs to suppress their immune systems, people with autoimmune diseases are more susceptible to infections.

“Necrotizing fasciitis didn’t start when she fell in the water. It didn’t start with the stapling. It started later,” he says. “But in these cases, minutes and hours do make a difference. It’s a rapidly progressing infection, so minutes count.”

The fact that Copeland has survived this long and that, according to her father, her lung function is improving, are both positive signs, Putterman says.

“What definitely is very, very much in her favor is that she’s 24 years-old,” he says. “Young adults are definitely much more resilient than individuals at the extremes of ages.”

While Aimee’s condition is improving, doctors say she has a long recovery ahead of her. 

“It will be very difficult, in fact, her recovery will continue for the rest of her life,” Dr. Walter Ingram, Grady Memorial Hospital Burn Center, Atlanta, told TODAY.

Meanwhile, the Copelands told TODAY they are staying focused on her recovery, rather than how hurting her leg could have caused the life-threatening infection.

“Our focus is on trying to stay positive, look at the present and the future,” Andy told TODAY. We believe that future is going to be bright for Aimee.”

 

Comments

  1. “Our focus is on trying to stay positive, look at the present and the future,” Andy told TODAY. We believe that future is going to be bright for Aimee.” ~ These lines are a challenge, when all else are running smoothly but in her case and her family’s case it takes real courage to believe there is a bright side to a closing situation. I am deeply moved by her and her family’s support. May the Lord be her healer and her strength. There can be miracles, when we believe!

  2. WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

    The flesh eating bacteria that I’ve heard of is the most horrific thing I can imagine. So minuscule, can’t be seen but somehow tiny teeth eating into you. I admire the tenacity of anyone who can keep a brave face in this situation. My sincerest best.

  3. There, but for the grace of God, go I (we)!

  4. Such an inspirational story! This girl is truly beautiful! Inside and out! I think it’s so good to share these stories so we can all learn and have more compassion for one-another and take our life a little less serious – I mean be grateful for what we’ve got – no matter how hard life can be if we stick together we can overcome a LOT! 🙂

  5. Amazing story. I will pray for her

  6. Oh wow, that is so heart-wrenching. So sad. Yes, she does have a very long road ahead of her. I will pray for this sweet woman. Bless her parents for truly being there.

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