Gwinnett woman fights for life against flesh-decaying bacteria

Against astounding odds, a Snellville woman is still fending off a deadly flesh-decaying bacteria that invaded her body after a zip line accident last week.

On Tuesday, doctors gave Aimee Copeland's chance of survival as 'slim to none,' after her leg was amputated up to the thigh and she suffered numerous setbacks as doctors tried to stay ahead of the aggressive bacteria, according to her father Andy Copeland.

Copeland said Aimee made meaningful progress Tuesday night, and has moved her arms, head and is beginning to breathe more on her own. Still, the doctors have stopped short of saying the worst is over.

"She's stable this morning," said Copeland, who said his daughter's blood oxygen level improved overnight, but her doctors at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta still are considering removing the tips of her fingers and toes on her right foot due to poor circulation.

Last Tuesday, Aimee Copeland, 24, was doing something she loves -- kayaking down the Little Tallapoosa River in Carrollton with friends. She received an ugly cut on her left calf when a homemade zip line she stopped to ride along the river broke.

Then ugly turned horrific.

The flesh-eating bacteria invaded her body through the gash on her calf, causing doctors to amputate her leg Friday night.

The University of West Georgia graduate psychology student remains in critical condition at the burn center in Augusta. Doctors had given her survival chances as "slim to none," her father Andy Copeland posted on a Facebook page on Tuesday.

"Yesterday evening, Aimee had made significant progress in a couple of areas," he wrote. "Today Aimee’s condition has worsened. Her temperature is up to 102 and the progress she made yesterday was lost overnight."

"It's been two steps forward and three steps back," Andy Copeland told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Aimee Copeland, a South Gwinnett High School grad, went to the emergency room at Tanner Medical Center, Carrollton, after the zip line gash. Doctors closed her leg with 22 staples and told her to take Motrin and Tylenol for the pain, her father said.

On Wednesday, Copeland returned to the Tanner ER complaining of severe pain and was given a prescription for a pain medication.

"This alleviated her symptoms, but she continued in pain on Thursday," her father said. "Aimee went to the doctor and received a prescription for antibiotics and posted a clean MRI report. Again, she was treated and released."

On Friday morning, a friend drove a pale and weak Copeland back to the emergency room, where a physician diagnosed her with "necrotizing fasciitis" in her damaged leg. The bacteria quickly spread beyond her wound to her hip and thigh. Lab tests have since confirmed Copeland has Aeromonas hydrophila, a bacteria found in warm climates and waters that can cause illnesses ranging from gastroenteritis to necrotizing fasciitis. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some strains of this bacteria can cause illness in fish and amphibians as well as humans.

"The surgeons advised me that they wanted to try to save her leg, but at this point saving her life took precedence," her father said on Facebook. "They removed all of the infected tissue and advised that she would have limited, if any use of her leg."

Copeland was then flown from Tanner to the burn center in Augusta, where doctors performed the high-hip amputation of her left leg. They also removed tissue from her abdomen, her father said.

"Aimee [cardiac] arrested when they moved her from the operating table, but they were able to successfully resuscitate her," her father said.

The woman made progress over the next few days, according to her father, but that progress began to slide. Tuesday, a week after the accident, Aimee Copeland's organs were beginning to shut down, Andy Copeland said.

He is holding out hope that his daughter will survive her ordeal. He said Aimee Copeland, 'a lover of people,'  majored in psychology because she wants to help people who go through any type of trauma.

Aimee Copeland's friends have established Aimee's Fund at United Community Bank in Carrollton for donations to help defray medical costs.

They're planning to hold a blood drive through the Sheperd Community blood bank, at the gym of the University of West Georgia from 2 to 7 p.m. next Tuesday.