Mom Battling Flesh-Eating Bacteria ‘Slightly Improved’

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(Photo credit: Greenville Hospital System/CNN)

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By the CNN Wire Staff

The health of a South Carolina woman battling a rare flesh-eating bacteria has “slightly improved,” a spokeswoman for a Greenville hospital said Thursday, though the new mother remains sedated and in critical condition.

Lana Kuykendall has “undergone 11 debridement surgeries to remove tissue since being admitted May 11” to Greenville Memorial Hospital, spokeswoman Sandra Dees said Thursday by e-mail.

But unlike 24-year-old Aimee Copeland of Georgia — who has lost a leg, part of her abdomen, her remaining foot and her hands as she fights the same disease, according to online updates from her father, Andy Copeland — no parts of Kuykendall’s body have been amputated.

“Last night, Darren told the family in his update that ‘Lana’s vitals and blood work is good.’ This is a good day for her, and we will take it,” said Brian Swaffer, Kuykendall’s brother, in a message relayed by the hospital.

Kuykendall gave birth to twins, Ian and Abigail, on May 7 in Atlanta.

At that time, Kuykendall, a paramedic, was believed to be healthy. But a few days later she went to hospital near her South Carolina home after noticing a rapidly expanding bruise on her leg, her husband Darren, a firefighter, told CNN last week.

She was diagnosed then with necrotizing fasciitis and has been intubated and sedated every day since, according to her brother and the hospital.

A number of bacteria, which are common in the environment but rarely cause serious infections, can lead to the disease. When it gets 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 disease 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.

Just last Sunday, Kuykendall had undergone seven surgeries for her ailment — meaning she has had four more such operations in recent days.

Swaffer said, as he did days ago, that the family is thankful the disease remains confined to his sister’s legs. While hooked up to a respirator, Kuykendall is now breathing on her own, according to her brother.

Her baby boy and girl, who are being cared for by relatives and friends, remain healthy and are doing well.

“Please pray with us that Lana will recover quickly to a point where she will be able to interact with and enjoy this special time in their lives,” Swaffer said.

Andy Copeland posted an update earlier Thursday about his daughter Aimee, who is fighting the same disease as Kuykendall in the intensive care unit of Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Georgia.

She was with friends May 1 near the Little Tallapoosa River, about 50 miles west of Atlanta, when the zip line that she was holding snapped. She fell and got a gash in her left calf that took 22 staples to close.

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

Her father has written regularly since about her situation, with the psychology department at the University of West Georgia — where Aimee had been pursuing her master’s degree in psychology — also posting online updates.

On Thursday, her father wrote on Facebook that Aimee “has finally stabilized to the point that she has not needed any ventilator assistance for over 24 hours.”

“Each breath is a victory. Each heart beat is a cause for celebration. When she opens her eyes, that is like a ticker tape parade down Broadway. When she mouths words, angelic hosts rejoice,” Andy Copeland said. “That is what each moment is like for us.”

He described several such moments from earlier in the week, including Aimee lighting up after listening to a “private concert” from a musician who’d written a song about her, waking up to talk of “treats” in the hospital and sitting up in a chair.

“When the doctors put Aimee in that chair, their expectations were to give her an hour,” Andy Copeland said, elaborating on the latter milestone. “Five hours later, Aimee decided it was time to lie down. Had she been running an Olympic marathon, I think Aimee would have experienced a record-breaking, gold-medal moment.”

— CNN’s William Hudson and Jennifer Bixler contributed to this report.

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