By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) — A Georgia college graduate student who lost one limb and will probably lose others to flesh-eating bacteria is mouthing words to her family and showing a “fighting spirit,” her father said Friday.
Aimee Copeland is fighting for her life at an Augusta hospital after her left leg and part of her abdomen were removed last week. She contracted the infection after injuring her calf in a zip line accident 10 days ago.
“I would say that she has more commands than questions right now,” Andy Copeland told “CNN Newsroom,” saying his daughter’s breathing tube was repositioned so her parents could read her lips. “‘I can’t talk,’ was what she said. And we said, ‘We know, honey, you’ve got a tube down your throat.’
“She said, ‘Then take it out.’ So her fighting spirit is obviously shining through right now.”
Aimee, 24, contracted the bacteria — Aeromonas hydrophila — during an outing with friends near the Little Tallapoosa River, about 50 miles west of Atlanta, on May 1, her family has said. She fell when a homemade zip line she was using snapped, and she gashed her left calf.
The family has said she sought medical treatment for the wound and received 22 staples to close it, according to CNN affiliate WSB. But on May 4, after she complained of pain for days, a friend took her to an emergency room, and she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis and flown to Augusta for surgery. She went into cardiac arrest after being removed from the operating table, but was resuscitated, CNN affiliate WGCL reported.
Her father wrote in an Internet post Thursday that her hands and remaining foot also will have to be amputated soon, because blood vessels there have died as the disease has spread. He said Friday that Aimee doesn’t yet know about these next amputations.
“There’s no way I would reveal that to her in her current state. I believe that it would just traumatize her further,” he said, adding that a psychiatrist at the hospital will tell her when she’s able to talk.
Andy Copeland wrote Thursday that Aimee shows no sign of brain damage and that a doctor said her lungs are healing. On Friday, he told CNN the road ahead for Aimee will be difficult.
“It’s obvious (that) if you’re missing one limb, it’s going to be hard enough. But if you’re missing all of your limbs, it’s going to be incredibly difficult,” he said. “But I guess I want everybody to know is that she’s not alone. She’s got her family to support her in this, and not just us.”
Thousands of people have connected with a Facebook page that the family also is using to update her progress.
“She’s got the support of the entire world right now. And that’s really what’s humbled us greatly in this entire process, just knowing that everybody’s looking at Aimee and praying for Aimee and just offering their undying support. For that, we’ll be eternally grateful.”
Aimee Copeland, of Snellville, Georgia, is a graduate psychology student at the University of West Georgia and was scheduled to complete her master’s degree in the fall, school spokeswoman Yolanda Rodriguez said.
On Thursday night, a couple dozen students and faculty members attended a vigil for her in a building that houses the school’s psychology department.
“Despite the fact that medical evidence says she should be dead, she isn’t. I think that’s what makes it so precious to so many people, to see how amazing she really is,” Chris Aanstoos, a University of West Georgia professor, told WSB on Thursday.
Dr. Buddy Creech, an assistant professor of pediatric infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, said that Aeromonas hydrophila is one of many bacteria that can cause a flesh-eating process and that this one is “remarkably common in the water and in the environment.”
“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,” Creech said Friday. “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.”
However, Creech said, Aeromonas hydrophila more commonly affects humans when it is swallowed — resulting in diarrhea. When young children or children with immune problems drink water with the bacteria, “they can get a very significant diarrhea illness from it,” he said.
“It’s much more uncommon that we see it in (a case like Copeland’s), where we see wounds get infected and the infection runs wild,” Creech said.
— CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield and Jason Hanna contributed to this report.