Flesh-Eating Bacteria Victim to Return to Much Different Home

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By Ed Payne, CNN

(CNN) — When Aimee Copeland, a 24-year-old Georgia woman who lost parts of four limbs to a flesh-eating bacteria, returns home from rehab next month, she’ll find it much different and much bigger than when she left in May.

A nearly 2,000 square foot addition will nearly double the size of the Copeland family home in Snellville, Georgia, east of Atlanta, and be equipped for her special needs.

The renovation plans include access ramps, an elevator to the home’s second floor, an exercise room Aimee will use to continue her recovery, guide rails in the bathroom, and a separate wash sink Aimee can use to clean her prosthetics.

The family calls it “Aimee’s Wing.”

“What blows me away is that the construction should be complete in roughly 40 days, hopefully in time for Aimee’s ‘graduation’ from rehab,” dad Andy Copeland said in his blog Tuesday. Pulte Homes, a Michigan-based company that builds homes in 27 states, is donating the construction addition.

Aimee Copeland was released from the hospital to a rehab facility on July 2 after nearly two months of treatment and surgeries.

Copeland’s ordeal began May 1 when she was riding a makeshift zip line across the Little Tallapoosa River, about 50 miles west of Atlanta. The line snapped, and she fell and received a gash in her left calf that took 22 staples to close.

Three days later, still in pain, she went to an emergency room. Doctors eventually determined she had necrotizing fasciitis caused by the bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila.

Since then, her father has blogged about her situation regularly. A Facebook page devoted to her fight has nearly 80,000 “likes.”

A number of bacteria that are common in the environment but rarely cause serious infections can lead to necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria syndrome. When the bacteria get into the bloodstream, such as through a cut, doctors typically move aggressively to excise even healthy tissue near the infection site in hopes of ensuring none of the dangerous bacteria remain.

The infection attacks and destroys healthy tissue and is fatal about 20% of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, estimates that fewer than 250 such cases occur each year in the United States, though estimates are imprecise since doctors do not have to report the cases to health authorities.

Andy Copeland says his daughter is “knocking it out in rehab,” committed to her exercise regime like an Olympic athlete.

“Her face was red and the vein in her neck was bulging as she pressed herself into her repetitions with serious determination,” Copeland said of Aimee’s Tuesday workout. “It’s like she was training for the Olympics.”

On Wednesday, she will be fitted with test sockets for her prosthetics, her dad said. If all goes well, in a few weeks, she will begin to be fitted with prosthetic limbs.

But her progress appears to come with a tinge of sadness.

“As I sit here and type I realize just how fortunate I am, we are, to have hands,” Andy Copeland said. “Take a moment tonight, tomorrow, every doggone day, to thank God for what you have. Taking time to realize your blessings makes life all the more worth living.”

CNN’s Jennifer Bixler contributed to this report.