New hope for Aimee Copeland as she recovers from flesh eating bacteria

9:38 AM, May 14, 2012   |    comments
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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- There are encouraging signs for Aimee Copeland, the 24-year-old University of West Georgia student suffering from a rare flesh eating bacteria. Doctors now believe they'll be able to save part of her hands.

On a University of West Georgia website, Aimee's father writes that his daughter is alert and trying to communicate.

"She said, 'I can't talk!" said Andy Copeland. "We told her it was because of the (breathing) tube, and we explained the need for it. She also asked, 'What happened?' and 'Where am I?' I thought it would be better when she became alert, but it is actually harder for us."

He also said his daughter remains on a ventilator, but is gaining lung function. "Just to let you know what it's like to breathe through a ventilator, imagine having to suck air through a straw for days on end," Copeland wrote in an update Sunday.  "No wonder she hates it."

Aimee Copeland is at Doctor's Hospital in Augusta where the flesh eating bacteria has already cost her one leg. Physicians and her family have said it's likely she'll lose her other leg as well as both hands. But now, doctors are hoping to save the palms of her hands.  Those muscles will help her operate prosthetics in the future.

The 24-year-old fell when a homemade zip line over a Carrollton river broke. The fall resulted in a gash in her leg. Aimee made repeated trips to a Carrollton hospital complaining of pain.

Health officials have determined that the aeromonas hydrophila bacteria caused the flesh eating infection. A spokesperson for the west Georgia health district says aeromonas hydrophilia is a common bacterium in fresh water all over the world, but rarely has this kind of effect on people.

Dr. Peter Rissing, an infectious disease physician at Georgia Health Sciences University, says the depth of Aimee Copeland's wound may have contributed to her situation. Dr. Rissing says early detection and treatment is key when it comes to a flesh eating infection, but adds such infections are hard to detect.

"It is very difficult to detect particularly early on," said Dr. Rissing. "You have to have a high degree of suspicion and eventually most us us believe that you have to actually check out the fascia (the covering of the muscle), which means there's extensive surgery."

Friends and schoolmates of Aimee Copeland will gather at the University of West Georgia gymnasium from 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday for a blood drive.

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