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Necrotizing fasciitis claims student's limbs

Danielle Adams

Georgia woman contracted necrotizing fasciitis after zip line accident.

Woman fighting flesh-eating bacteria will likely survive

The flesh-eating bacteria known as necrotizing fasciitis has caused Aimee Copeland to lose her left leg and part of her abdomen, and she may lose more, including her fingers.

Copeland contracted necrotizing fasciitis when she tried to cross the Little Tallapoosa River on a homemade zip line and the line snapped, sending the 24-year-old crashing into the rocks below. The rocks gave her a nasty gash, which was closed with nearly two dozen staples at the local emergency room.

Three days later, when the pain was still continuing, a friend took Copeland to an emergency room again where she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis and flown to Augusta for surgery.

It appears that she contracted the flesh-eating Aeromonus hydrophila, a common bacteria. Although the bacteria itself (found in warm and brackish waters) is fairly common, infections caused by these bacteria are usually mild. However, in rare cases, the bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis, which destroys the skin, fat and tissue covering the muscle.

One in four people who get this infection die from it, but, miraculously, it seems like Copeland will recover, albeit a leg and fingers. “However,” a blog set up by the University of West Georgia psychology department said, “Physicians have hope of bringing life back to the palms of her hands, which could allow her the muscle control to use helpful prosthetics. They are awaiting a safe time before embarking on surgery for this.”

Copeland’s family said she suffered cardiac arrest when her leg was amputated a week ago. She remains in critical condition at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, but she is now conscious, after spending most of the week unconscious.

Copeland’s parents said that she has to be told what happens every time she wakes up, as the medicine she is given leads her to forget each time she falls asleep. “It’s scary to her,” said her mother, Donna Copeland, reported CNN. She asks where she is and “doesn’t understand.”

Her dad said in a blog post that they have been communicating with her by reading her lips, and she has expressed concern about finishing her thesis. Copeland is a grad student at the University of West Georgia, focusing on eco-psychology.

Despite the fact that she will likely lose all of her extremities due to necrotizing fasciitis, the Associated Press has reported that Copeland’s friends and family are confident that she will overcome the infection and return to her former self. “She just tended to be the kind of person who always looks at things from the bright side and did that without any effort,” Donadrian Rice, chairman of the psychology department at UWG said. “I always felt that even during the lowest moments of her medical condition. She would fight, she would survive.”

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