FILED IN: Health

Young woman with flesh-eating infection may lose more limbs

Aimee Copeland, 24, has already lost her left leg to a rare flesh-eating infection, and now it appears that she is likely to lose her hands and remaining foot, her family reports. The Gerogia student has shown some signs of recovery, however, so her family is staying optimistic.

Andy Copeland, the woman’s father, said, “Aimee appears to have normal brain function at this time, which is something I’m celebrating because within Aimee we have a very compassionate heart and an incredible mind of intellect.”

Aimee Copeland suffered a cut on her left calf when she fell from a homemade zip line on May 1 near the Little Tallapoosa River. The wound was cleaned and closed by doctors at a nearby hospital.  Bacteria had apparently burrowed deep into the wound and caused necrotizing fasciitis, which is a deadly infection that is quite rare. She lost her leg to the infection last week.

Andy Copeland told ABC affiliate WSB-TV, “I couldn’t conceive of what it would be like for my daughter to lose her hands and the only other foot she has, as well, and that appears to be what is going to happen…The most important thing is my daughter is still alive.”

Aimee Copeland is still in critical condition, dependent upon a ventilator to breathe. Her family said she’s coherent and that she can communicate by nobbing and shaking her head. Her sister Paige said that Aimee used a shake of the head to choose the Grateful Dead over the Rolling Stones on Thursday.

Paige Copeland said, “I just told her if she keeps improving like this, she’ll be out of here in no time.”

Copeland is unable to speak because of the ventilator, but a local newspaper reports that she has mouthed “Where am I?” and “What happened?” The newspaper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reports that her family has started to answer her questions but has not yet told her about the loss of her leg.

Aeromonas hydrophila, the bacteria that triggered the infection, in fresh water like the river where Copeland was zip lining with friends. It also tends to do well in warm climates. Experts say that the common germ rarely leads to flesh-eating disease, but the diease is deadly. A 2010 report in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews stated that mortality rates for Aeromonas-related necrotizing fasciitis are over 60 percent.

ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said, “This was a perfect storm…She had an injury to her leg, she was exposed to water then had this germ, and she was one of those people where the germ just took off.”

Copeland was flown to Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, Ga. after her leg was amputated. Since then, her recovery has been rough. Doctors were forced to resuscitate her one week after the accident when her heart stopped beating.

Students and faculty gathered for a vigil on Thursday night at the University of West Georgia. Copeland had been working on completing a masters degree in psychology there.

Chris Aanstoos, a professor of psychology, told WSB-TV, “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.”