Aimee Copeland shows signs of improvement fighting flesh-eating bacteria, family says

While visiting his 24-year-old daughter in the intensive care unit at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center on Tuesday, Andy Copeland told her she is as special as the Mona Lisa. Aimee Copeland gave him a look and brought her hand to her face.


“But I have …,” she mouthed.

Cope­land was telling her father she could not be the Mona Lisa because she had eyebrows.

“I didn’t even realize the Mona Lisa didn’t have eyebrows,” her sister, Paige Copeland, said.

Copeland is still in critical condition, but her family said she is aware and able to hold conversations. She even recalls stories from her past.

“I think what this says is her intellectual capacity is 100 percent,” Copeland’s father said Wednesday at a news conference. “She remembers family events. She made us laugh.”

He said the original flesh eating bacteria, Aeromonas hydrophila, is no longer a threat. Aimee Copeland contracted the bacteria after cutting her left leg when a zip line she was riding along the Little Tallapoosa River in Carrollton, Ga., broke May 1. Her father said doctors are now trying to prevent other bacteria from attacking her.

She has lost one leg and a large portion of flesh from her torso. Originally, doctors had said it would likely take her hands and other foot.

Although not guaranteed, her palms and remaining foot are looking better, Copeland said. Doctors have hope they will be saved.

“We still are extremely cautious,” he said. “But I will tell you her doctors are keeping a really good eye on it.”

Copeland was also hopeful because his daughter had her fifth treatment Wednes­day in the hospital’s hyperbaric oxygen chamber – one of the main reasons why she was sent to Augusta – which means she is well enough to move. She will have five more treatments.

Doctors also removed her breathing tube Wednesday and performed a tracheostomy, opening a direct airway through an incision in the trachea.

“The purpose is to make sure she has the best possible respiratory therapy that’s available,” he said.

Removing the tube makes communication easier, her sister said. Now they can read her lips better.

The family wants to be clear she is still in critical condition.

“Aimee is not chilling out in the ICU reading books,” Copeland said. Instead, the family reads to her.

Her family’s big concern is how hard it is for her to cough because of the amount of flesh removed from her torso.

“She’s very weak from that,” Andy Copeland said. “She’s still a very sick girl. She’s still in critical condition. That has not changed.”

The family also told her she had used 177 units of blood. Copeland said his daughter’s eyes got big with surprise.

He told her the Shepeard Community Blood Center had a blood drive where so many people showed up, they had to set up a second date. He said she seemed pleased with the news.

“She has always wanted to make a difference,” he said.

Andy Copeland also challenged the University of Geor­gia and the University of South Caro­lina to have a “Border Bash blood drive.”

He is a Gamecock and both his daughters are former Bulldogs, so the family rivalry is a good reason to have the two schools hold a competition, Copeland said.

The family would like to replace the blood Aimee has been given, and then some.

As far as how much his daughter knows about her condition, Copeland said she has seen her hands and it did not seem to upset her.

The family is now focusing on keeping her spirits up. Copeland said when they come into her hospital room, the doctor sees improvement in her blood pressure.

“That shows the bond we have,” he said.

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Also known as necrotizing fasciitis, Aeromonas hydrophila is caused by fairly common bacteria called group A streptococcus that are typically found on the skin or in the throat.

Most of the infections from the bacteria are fairly mild, such as “strep throat” and impetigo or an itchy skin rash.

In about 9,000 to 11,500 cases a year, the bacteria get into the bloodstream, through a sore or a cut, and become invasive, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 6 percent to 7 percent of those cases, it attacks the lining of flesh and muscles and becomes necrotizing fasciitis, the CDC said.

While it can be treated with antibiotics, surgery to remove infected tissue sometimes becomes necessary.

About 25 percent of the cases are fatal, according to the CDC.

Overall, invasive group A strep infections cause up to 1,800 deaths a year, according to the CDC.

– Tom Corwin,
staff writer


Aimee Copeland had her fifth hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatments and will receive five more. Her father, Andy Copeland, said the procedure is intended to put her in a pure oxygen environment, which can aid in restoring some of the tissue in her extremities and help healing in the areas where she has lost some flesh on her torso.



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