UPDATE: Family of girl with flesh-eating bacteria say she's 'still critical, but responsive'

By: Hope Jensen Email
By: Hope Jensen Email
Aimee Copeland

Aimee Copeland is battling a flesh-eating disease in a local hospital. (WRDW-TV / May 9, 2012)

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Thursday, May 10, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A graduate student is in the fight of her life against a rare flesh-eating bacteria. She's fighting her battle here in Augusta at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital.

Aimee Copeland, 24, cut her leg after falling from a zipline. Just three days later, she was diagnosed. On Friday she was life-flighted to Augusta where doctors amputated her left leg.

On Thursday her family said she might lose her hands and foot, too.

"It's just mind-blowing to think that just a week ago our daughter was fine," said her father, Andy Copeland.

It's another setback, but they say the most important thing for them is to stay positive.

"There is no reason she should be alive right now, given all the information that we've heard from the doctors," Andy said.

But Aimee is alive and fighting to keep that life.

"She's always exceeded everybody's expectations and I know that she's gonna continue to do that throughout this long journey," said her sister, Paige Copeland. "She's a soldier and she's gonna continue to fight until she gets better."

Her condition is critical, but her parents said on Thursday she was starting to respond.

"The more I talked, the more the crinkles disappeared from her forehead," said her father. "The tears began to dry up and the redness of frustration disappeared from her cheeks. It's just amazing. That was the first true sign on responsiveness that we had from our daughter."

Her responses are keeping them positive.

"Just to quote them, they said you know her chances are slim to none," Andy said. "They are still slim, but they're improving. I don't care what the science says, I just know what my heart says and Aimee's got a great purpose going forward and I know that she's gonna make it."

Andy says his goal now is to help others by pushing for blood donations.

"Please. Whether its plasma platelets red blood cells, get out and support your community; this is the best way you can do it," he said.

He said helping others through their tough times is exactly what Aimee would want and something he says she'll continue to do when she gets better.

"Now she's a living testimony for what pain and suffering is all about," he said. "People will really be tuned into her message and I just believe that she's gonna reach a lot of people."

Initial report:

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Wednesday, May 9, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A graduate student is fighting for her life at the Augusta Burn Center after being infected by a rare flesh-eating bacteria.

Aimee Copeland, 24, has been at the Joseph M. Still burn center since Friday fighting her infection.

Doctors say her condition has been touch and go ever since she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis. It is a bacteria that affects between 10 and 15 thousand people in the U.S. each year.

Dr. John Fisher is a professor of medicine and infectious disease at Georgia Health Sciences University.

"That's not a terribly surprising scenario for a very bad streptococcal infection," he said. "The pace at which it moves, it's not surprising. It's tragic, but it's not surprising."

Fisher doesn't know Aimee's case specifically, but he's been working with infectious diseases for almost 30 years.

"Necrotizing fasciitis is a very deep infection," he said.

Copeland is a graduate student at the University of West Georgia. Last Tuesday, she was on a homemade zipline when it broke, causing her to fall and cut her calf. She had to get 22 staples to close the gash. On Wednesday, she went back to the hospital because of the severe pain.

"It's usually within a day or so that something isn't right," Fisher said. "It's pretty rare, but it's pretty impressive in those patients."

Just three days after falling, doctors amputated her left leg from her hip.

"It's notorious for being very rapid because of the toxins that it makes and so most of these necrotizing fasciitis cases rapidly progress," Fisher said.

An infection that spreads by the hour with a cause that can be hard to determine.

"Type two is usually caused by an organism called streptococcus pyogenes or group A strep," he said. "The same streptococcus that can cause strep throat."

But how it gets into the skin is difficult to pinpoint.

"You usually can't tell where it came from, but it's a fairly common human bug," he said.

And the only way to stop it is through surgery.

"The treatment, antibiotics are certainly important, but the treatment is surgery and the treatment is to remove all of the involved tissue," he said.

Aimee's dad has been writing a blog about all this. On Wednesday afternoon he posted better news. She is regaining lung function and family says she's starting to get a little bit of her personality back. You can follow her progress on the blog here.

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