Georgia woman who lost leg to flesh-eating bacteria to lose both hands

CNN -- The father of a University of West Georgia graduate student infected with rare "flesh-eating" bacteria has told in heartbreaking detail of the moment when his daughter learned she would lose her hands.

On a Facebook page dedicated to Aimee Copeland's recovery, Andy Copeland describes speaking with the surgeons who said that his daughter's hands should be amputated to ensure her survival.

"The hands were endangering Aimee's progress. As always, my decision was simple," he writes in an entry posted Friday.

"Do whatever it takes to give us the best chance to save Aimee's life."

He then had to break the news to his 24-year-old daughter, who had already lost a leg to the infection.

"I took Aimee's hands and held them up to her face. She didn't draw back in horror. She knew the condition she was in," he writes.

She nodded as he explained the diagnosis given by her doctors.

Asked whether she had any questions, his daughter mouthed, "I'm a little confused, but I'll figure it out," he writes.

Copeland then listened as her father, mother Donna and sister Paige explained how she would eventually be fitted with prosthetic limbs, enabling her to get around and manage daily life.

"She smiled and raised her hands up, carefully examining them. She then looked at us. We all understood her next three words," he writes. " 'Let's do this.' "

Andy Copeland then pays moving tribute to the strength of his daughter, who has spent days in intensive care at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.

"A tear rolled down my face as I walked out of her room. I wasn't crying because Aimee was going to lose her hands and foot, I was crying because, in all my 53 years of existence, I have never seen such a strong display of courage. Aimee shed no tears, she never batted an eyelash. I was crying because I am a proud father of an incredibly courageous young lady."

Copeland's bravery has touched the hearts of many Americans as her family has shared the ups and downs of her battle against the flesh-eating bacteria that have endangered her life.

The master's student in psychology at the Carrollton school was with friends May 1 near the Little Tallapoosa River, about 50 miles west of Atlanta, when she grabbed onto a zip line. It snapped, and she fell.

The accident left a gash in her left calf that took 22 staples to close.

Three days later, still in pain, she went to an emergency room, where doctors determined she had necrotizing fasciitis caused by the flesh-devouring bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila. She was flown to Augusta for surgery.

Since then, doctors have removed part of Copeland's abdomen and amputated a leg and will now remove her fingers, her father said. She has also had a tracheotomy to enable her to come off a ventilator.

Copeland, who has been on life support since May 4, regained consciousness a week later, the school's website said.

Her father recounts how her loved ones have watched in horror as the disease attacks her flesh and seen the inevitability of amputation in the changing color of her hands from day to day.

"Some people may criticize my decision and say we should have prayed over Aimee and asked God to heal her hands. Trust me, this we have done every day," he writes.

Aimee Copeland's infection has raised public awareness of the bacteria in the United States.

The infection is fatal in about one in four cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.

The bacteria are "remarkably common in the water and in the environment," according to Dr. Buddy Creech, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University.

He said it was not clear how many cases occur in the United States in any given year. "For pediatrics, we only see two or three a year," he said, referring to Vanderbilt.

"When it gets into those deeper tissues, it has a remarkable ability to destroy the tissues that surround it in sort of this hunt for nutrition," he said. "When it does that, those tissues die, and you see the inflammation and the swelling and the destruction that can be very difficult to control."

A similar if apparently less severe case was reported by the husband of a 36-year-old paramedic and nurse from Greenville, South Carolina, who gave birth to twins May 7 at a hospital in Georgia.

After undergoing surgery, Lana Kuykendall remained in critical but stable condition, hospital officials in South Carolina said late Wednesday.


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