Georgia Woman With Flesh-Eating Disease Celebrates Small Victories

Aimee Copeland understands the "miracle of her existence," her family says.

ByABC News
May 16, 2012, 7:14 AM

May 16, 2012— -- Aimee Copeland, the Georgia student who lost her leg to a rare flesh-eating infection after a zip-line injury, knows she's lucky to be alive, according to her family.

Although the 24-year-old remains in intensive care at an Augusta hospital, relying on a ventilator to breathe, she's smiling, laughing and mouthing, "I love you."

"I believe we've had victory over death here," Copeland's father, Andy Copeland, told "Good Morning America."

"And that's not something that happens every day."

Medications designed to keep Copeland calm have blurred her memory of the May 1 zip-line accident near the Little Tallapoosa River that cut open her calf, inviting the life-threatening infection that claimed her leg and threatens to take her fingers.

"I don't know that she's aware yet that she's lost her left leg," said Andy Copeland, anticipating the bittersweet day when his daughter is strong enough to learn details of the accident. "It's going to be sweet because she finally, we can communicate with her. But at the same time, it's going to be bitter because there will be certain things revealed to her that will be painful."

Describing the revelation as a moment of "horror and depression," Andy Copeland asked family and friends to pray that his daughter "not be focused her physical being," he wrote in a blog post. "Please pray that she will have understanding."

Copeland beat the odds by surviving the flesh-eating Aeromonas infection, which carries a fatality rate upward of 60 percent, according to a 2010 report published in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews.

"She understands the miracle of her existence right now," Andy Copeland said.

While the ventilator makes it impossible to speak, Copeland communicates with her family through a lip-reading game.

"She really has fun with it and we all end up laughing," Andy Copeland said, describing in a blog post how his daughter's laptop request was mistaken for "lamb chop." "The nurses commented that the ICU that we're in sounds like a game show."

Another sign of Copeland's resilience: Her questions have shifted away from her accident to sister Paige's love live.

"Unlike before, she doesn't ask where she is or how she got there," Andy Copeland wrote. "She asks how Paige's boyfriend is doing."

Copeland's physical recovery is slow but steady, according to her father.

"The words I hear from the medical professionals to describe Aimee's continued recovery are 'astonishing,' 'incredible,' 'confounding,' 'mind boggling' and 'unbelievable,'" he wrote. "All those are fitting words. My favorite word is 'miracle.'"

And miracles are all around, Andy Copeland said, describing how a blood drive for his daughter Tuesday drew so many donors that people were turned away.

"We have walls I believe that are made of faith and reinforced by hope and they are filled with love," he said.

Andy Copeland praised the medical team at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Ga., that has been caring for his daughter for nearly two weeks.

"Their personalities range from House to Patch Adams and all points in between," he wrote in his blog. "I love them all."

The next medical milestone for Copeland is the removal of the ventilator, a day her family has dubbed "Aimee day."

In the meantime, the Copelands will take comfort in "simple words, silly actions and quiet moments," Andy Copeland wrote. "Each day we claim some small victory."