Girl With Flesh-Eating Disease Can't Remember Events

Aimee Copeland doesn't know she lost her leg after a zip line injury.

ByABC News
May 14, 2012, 10:16 AM

May 14, 2012— -- Aimee Copeland, the Georgia student who contracted a rare flesh-eating disease after a zip line injury, is awake and alert but still in critical condition, according to her family. But the 24-year-old still can't remember the events that landed her in an Augusta hospital for the past 11 days, including the amputation of her left leg.

"They are giving her medication to help her forget the stress she's under, so that explains her inability to recollect many things," Copeland's father, Andy Copeland, wrote in a blog dedicated to his daughter's recovery. "I tell her not to worry. I tell her to concentrate on breathing. I ask her to pray and meditate on healing."

Aimee Copeland was riding a homemade zip line near the Little Tallapoosa River May 1 when the line snapped, causing a fall that cut open her left calf. Doctors at a nearby hospital cleaned and closed the gash with 22 staples, but bacteria that burrowed deep into the wound caused necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but deadly infection.

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

The bacteria that triggered the infection, Aeromonas hydrophila, thrives in warm climates and fresh water like the river where Copeland was zip lining with friends. The common germ rarely causes flesh-eating disease. But when it does, the infection carries a fatality rate upward of 60 percent, according to a 2010 report published in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews.

"This was a perfect storm," said ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser. "She had an injury to her leg, she was exposed to water then had this germ, and she was one of those people where the germ just took off."

Despite showing signs of recovery, Copeland remains in critical condition, relying on a ventilator for oxygen. Doctors already removed her left leg and part of her abdomen, and expect to amputate her fingers in the days to come, according to Andy Copeland.

"They are awaiting a safe time before embarking on surgery for this," he wrote.

Because of the breathing tube, Copeland cannot speak. But her family said she continues to mouth questions like "Where am I?" and "What happened?"

"We have been trying to help Aimee by focusing her away from the negatives of her condition," Andy Copeland wrote in a blog post, anticipating the bittersweet day when his daughter no longer needs the ventilator and is able to ask questions. "As wonderful as that moment will be for us, it will also be the time that Aimee receives all the answers about her condition. She will learn about the loss of her beautiful leg. She will discover that her hands lack the dexterity and tactile response she has known all her life. How would you respond in such a situation? I think that moment will be one of horror and depression for Aimee."