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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.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/21/2012 11:31:05 AM ET 2012-05-21T15:31:05

The father of a Georgia woman fighting a flesh-eating disease says his daughter is now able to breathe on her own, a milestone that sent the family's spirits soaring.

Aimee Copeland is now focused on taking each breath without the aid of a ventilator, which will help her lungs recover, her father Andy Copeland said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.

Andy Copeland said her hands were amputated Thursday because they'd turned into purple "poison bags." But he said she's maintained her positive outlook since the amputations. By reading her lips, they heard her mouth the words, "the power of love is undeniable."

In his blog Sunday night, her father shared the latest on her condition: "She's cracking jokes, speaking frankly, displaying her usual early morning grumpiness and she has been off of the ventilator for over 10 hours."

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On Monday, he told NBC's Gabe Gutierrez that his daughter had even joked about braiding her hair -- despite her surgery Thursday.

Aimee developed a rare condition, necrotizing fasciitis, after cutting her leg in a May 1 fall from a homemade zip line over a river.

Copeland’s not the only one battling the bacterial infection. A 36-year-old new mother, Lana Kuykendall, underwent a series of operations to remove dead or damaged tissue after contracting the condition, just days after giving birth to twins. She remains in critical condition in Greenville, S.C.

In addition, a Cartersville, Ga., landscaper, Bobby Vaughn, is recovering from five surgeries where doctors removed almost two pounds of infected tissue near his groin.

“I still don't know the extent of this thing; I was told I was close to death,” Vaughn told TODAY Mondayfrom his hospital room. He's being treated at Doctor's Hospital in Augusta -- the same facility where Copeland is recovering.

Vaughn was in "good" condition late Sunday, said Barclay Bishop, a hospital spokesperson.

Experts estimate there are several hundred cases in the U.S. each year, with about 1 in 4 being fatal.

Video: Georgia hit by 3 case of flesh-eating bacteria (on this page)
Mom with flesh-eating infection had 7 operations
Story: Ga. woman to lose both hands, foot to flesh-eating infection
Early notice of flesh-eating bacteria may have saved mom

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

Video: Georgia hit by 3rd case of flesh-eating bacteria

  1. Closed captioning of: Georgia hit by 3rd case of flesh-eating bacteria

    >> we want to catch folks up with the story of that young georgia woman fighting for her life after being infected with a rare flesh-eating bacteria. she's now breathing on her own, this just days after doctors had to amputate her hands and remaining foot. gabe gutierrez is in augusta with the latest for us. gabe, good morning.

    >> lester, good morning. we've learned of a third case with ties to georgia being treated here, the same hospital where 24-year-old aimee copeland is recovering. in a new blog post aimee 's father says that she's now breathing on her own, she's off the respirator and even cracking jokes. a significant improvement since the amputations late last week. aimee copeland 's emotional roller coaster, documented in her dad's facebook posts. andy copeland writes while his daughter faced losing her hands and feet she did not lose her sense of humor. on wednesday he remembers telling her, aimee , you are as priceless as the mona lisa . his daughter shook her head and mouthed the words, i'm nothing like the mona lisa . she doesn't have eyebrows. by the next day, though, her condition worsened. her father says he finally told her about the accident, how she had contracted the flesh-eating infection while continuelining with her friends. i took aimee 's hands and held them up to her face, he writes. she didn't draw back in horror. she knew the condition she was in. when doctors said they'd have to amputate her hands and remaining foot, she smiled and raised her hands up. we all understood her next three words. let's do this. copeland is not the only one battling necrotizing fasciitis. a south carolina woman contracted the flesh-eating infection just days after giving birth to twins in an atlanta capital. she remains in critical condition in greenville.

    >> she does respond sometimes. you can see it in her blood pressure, or she has opened her eyes a little bit at times. but that's pretty much about it.

    >> reporter: but now there's a third case with ties to georgia . bobby vaughn is a landscaper from cartersville. he spoke to "today" by phone from his hospital room.

    >> i was just -- i was working one day, and it just hit me like a ton of bricks. boom.

    >> reporter: he says he's been through five surgeries, where doctors removed almost two pounds of infected tissue near his groin.

    >> i still don't know the extent of this thing. you know. i don't know -- i mean, i was told i was close to death.

    >> reporter: but he's thankful he's now in good condition. and his thoughts are with aimee copeland , who is just a few rooms away at this augusta hospital. the young woman still fighting for her life. experts estimate that these types of infections are rare. they think there are about several hundred cases in the u.s. each year. with about one in


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