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Image: Aimee Copeland
Aimee Copeland, the Georgia grad student fighting flesh-eating bacteria is expected to lose both hands and her one remaining foot.
updated 5/18/2012 1:47:23 PM ET 2012-05-18T17:47:23

Faced with the prospect of losing both hands and her one remaining foot, a young Georgia woman battling to survive a case of flesh-eating bacteria that has already claimed one leg mouthed the words "Let's do this."

Aimee Copeland, 24, "shed no tears, she never batted an eyelash," her father, Andy Copeland, wrote on Facebook on Friday about the conversation he and his wife had with their daughter the day before.

"I was crying because I am a proud father of an incredibly courageous young lady," Copeland wrote.

It was not immediately clear Friday whether the surgeries had already. A hospital spokeswoman referred questions to the father's online post.

The story of Copeland's battle to survive has inspired an outpouring of support from around the world. The University of West Georgia student developed a rare condition called necrotizing fasciitis after suffering a deep cut in her leg in a May 1 fall from a homemade zip line over the Little Tallapoosa River.

She has been hospitalized in critical condition at an Augusta hospital, battling kidney failure and other organ damage. She had been on a breathing tube until recently, when doctors performed a tracheotomy, her father said.

Until Thursday, Aimee Copeland did not know the full extent of her condition, only that her hands were badly infected.

Andy Copeland said he told his daughter about what had happened since the accident, how her one leg had been amputated. Doctors had once characterized her survival as "slim to none."

"We told her of the outpouring of love from across the world," her father said. "We told her that the world loved and admired her. We explained that she had become a symbol of hope, love and faith. Aimee's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. She was amazed."

In Copeland's case, the necrotizing fasciitis was caused by bacteria known as Aeromonas hydrophila, which is found in warm rivers and streams. Many people exposed to the bacteria don't get sick. Only a handful of necrotizing fasciitis infections caused by the bacteria have been reported in medical journals in recent decades.

Video: Flesh-eating bacteria 'hard to stop' (on this page)

Under the condition, the bacteria emit toxins that destroy muscle, fat and skin tissue.

Andy Copeland said he learned Thursday that doctors wanted to amputate his daughter's hands and remaining foot. Doctors were concerned she could develop respiratory problems and if her hands released an infection in her body there was a risk she could become septic again, her father said.

"We had a window of opportunity to perform the amputations and have a successful outcome," he said. "As they usually do, the doctors were presenting us with a medical no-brainer. We had to do what is necessary to save Aimee's life."

Picasa  /  AP
Aimee Copeland will eventually be fitted with prosthetics to help her get around.

At that point, the family decided to share the situation with their daughter.

Copeland said he showed his daughter her hands, told her they were not healthy and were hampering her progress.

"Aimee, I do not want anything to happen to you," Copeland said he told his daughter. "Your mind is beautiful, your heart is good and your spirit is strong. These hands can prevent your recovery from moving forward. The doctors want to amputate them and your foot today to assure your best possible chance of survival."

Aimee Copeland nodded her understanding.

Her father explained that she would eventually be fitted with prosthetics to help her get around and she nodded again.

Then she smiled, raised her hands up and looked at the damage. She then turned to her family, gathered by her bedside and mouthed the words: "Let's do this."

Her father said he left the room with tears in his eyes.

"I wasn't crying because Aimee was going to lose her hands and foot, I was crying because, in all my 53 years of existence, I have never seen such a strong display of courage," Copeland said.

More on Aimee Copeland:

No tears as Ga. student sees bacteria-ravaged hands
Flesh-eating bacteria patient's parents on TODAY: 'Trying to stay positive'
Video: Student loses leg after zipline accident (on this page)

Mom of newborn twins battles flesh-eating bacteria

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Dr. Nancy: Flesh-eating bacteria ‘hard to stop’

  1. Closed captioning of: Dr. Nancy: Flesh-eating bacteria ‘hard to stop’

    >>> dr. nancy snyderman is nbc's chief medical editor. good morning to you.

    >> hey, matt.

    >> it strikes me how different these cases are. i kind of can get aimee copeland cuts herself, exposed to perhaps river or stream water. but lana kuykendall just had babies, had just given birth.

    >> otherwise healthy except when you're in your third trimester, your immune system really does change. so she was at risk for infection. the question is, did she have a cut on her leg beforehand? did she pick up this infection in the hospital? i don't know. but it's not related necessarily to being pregnant.

    >> but same kind of bacteria, always causes this?

    >> no. it can be staph, strep, clostridium. there's a laundry list. it releases a toxin and that destroys the tissue. there are sometimes layers in the body between muscle. it's almost like a canvas sheet type of layer. but it doesn't have a lot of blood supply. and if the bacteria gets in there, it can literally zoom along the highway and spread. and that's when you see these big areas of destruction.

    >> and you kind of just touched on what i was going to ask you. it's rare, 500 to 1,000 cases a year --

    >> i think it's underreported.

    >> but why is it so difficult to stop once it's diagnosed?

    >> a lot of time it's deep tissue. take aimee copeland, deep tissue injury, sewn up appropriately in the operating room, but the bacteria was probably deep into her thigh where it was allowed to fester. what people need to remember is that every wound gets some bacteria in it. you start with soap and water and clean it out. but if over the next 24, 48 hours there is redness, increased pain, the wound doesn't get better, it gets worse. but pain that is disproportionate to what you think the cut is, that's the hallmark sign because this toxin can be destroying tissue that's deep, deep, deep away from what the visual eye can see.

    >> and is there any way to take precautions against something like this?

    >> not necessarily precautions other than being hyper aware and getting to the hospital immediately. the treatment is i.v. antibiotics.

    >> for a long period of time?

    >> maybe five days to seven days depending -- could be longer. my concern right now is that if people don't go within a matter of hours, it can be a problem. and with increasing antibacterial resistance, and not a lot of drugs in the pipeline, the antibiotics make a difference. so again, remember, the big thing is, if the pain doesn't match the wound, think that something is serious and get help immediately.

    >> all right, nancy snyderman , nancy, thank you very much.


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