Entries in Necrotizing Fasciitis (7)


Michigan Woman Has Flesh-Eating Bacteria Aimee Copeland Survived

WXYZ-TV/ABC News(DETROIT) -- A Detroit-area woman is fighting for her life against the same, rare flesh-eating disease that nearly killed Georgia graduate student Aimee Copeland.

Crystal Spencer, 33, is in serious condition at Detroit Receiving Hospital after she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, which is more commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria syndrome.  The quickly progressing infection is known for its sudden onset and the speed with which it spreads across layers of skin and subcutaneous tissues.

Spencer's husband, Jeff, told ABC News affiliate WXYZ-TV that his wife, who had been hospitalized since June 30, has already had a part of her midsection removed, which he says amounts to the size of a small watermelon.

"They only give her a 20 to 30 percent chance to pull out of this, not even to make this," Jeff Spencer said.  "The surgeon keeps going in and cleaning it and cleaning it.  But they're saying it could go either way."

Crystal Spencer entered the hospital days before Copeland was released from a hospital more than 700 miles away after she fought an uphill battle against the same infection.

After 49 days, Copeland on Monday left an Atlanta-area hospital, where she had her left leg, right foot and both hands amputated in order to save her life.

The 24-year-old contracted the virus from hydrophila bacteria, which is typically found in warm waters, when she fell from a broken zipline along the Tallapoosa River near the south end of the Appalachian Mountains in Georgia on May 1.

Jeff Spencer told WXYZ that he believes his wife contracted the infection while she was at a different Detroit hospital, where she recently had surgery to remove an abscess from her leg.  Crystal Spencer suffers from type 2 diabetes.

"They're saying it's a long road but I'm trying to think for the better that hopefully she does make it," he said.  "She's alert but she's not to the point where she can talk or really do much."

"It's just hard at night to do this," he added.  "I'm keeping my hopes up, I'm praying and have family do what they can."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Aimee Copeland Pleads for Painkillers, Feels Like 'Patchwork Quilt'

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Aimee Copeland, the Georgia student recovering from flesh-eating disease, is pleading for painkillers after surgery to replace swaths of bacteria-ravaged skin and muscle, her father said.

Copeland, 24, was hesitant to take morphine, telling her father she felt like "a traitor to her convictions."  But her preferred method of pain management, meditation, proved no match for the sting of skin grafts and muscle flaps to close a gaping wound on her abdomen and groin.

"Aimee is now taking pain medication in as liberal a dose as can be prescribed," Copeland's father, Andy Copeland, wrote in a blog post.  "If she even dared to refuse taking it, which she wouldn't, then the doctors would most certainly administer it in an IV drip."

It's been nearly seven weeks since Copeland cut open her calf in a fall from a homemade zip line near the Little Tallapoosa River, inviting a flesh-eating infection that claimed her left leg, right foot and hands.  Doctors also removed part of her torso, leaving a wound that was dutifully cleaned and covered with sterile bandages in advance of reconstructive surgery on Friday.

"During the most recent skin graft, her surgeons were forced to take muscle from Aimee's abdomen to create a flap over the iliac artery in her groin," Andy Copeland wrote.  "She says that she feels like a patchwork quilt, because her body is a collection of skin grafts and bandages."

A skin graft transplants a thin patch of skin surgically shaved from elsewhere on the body onto a wound.

"We can get sheets between 10 and 12 thousandths of an inch thick," said Dr. J. Blair Summitt, assistant professor of plastic surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.  "Within two or three days, tiny little blood vessels start to grow into the graft.  It's a fairly straightforward procedure."

Straightforward, but not painless.  Summitt said narcotic painkillers like morphine and Fentanyl help patients power through the painful reconstructive surgery.  But Andy Copeland said no drug is powerful enough to relieve his daughter's pain.

"The allowable doses of Morphine, Fentanyl and Lyrica are often inadequate to deal with the pain that Aimee is now experiencing," he wrote.  "Please believe me when I say that Aimee's refusal to use pain medication has ceased following her most recent surgery.  She is now requesting it ahead of schedule."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Georgia Flesh-Eating Disease Victim Speaks

ABC News(AUGUSTA, Ga.) -- Aimee Copeland, 24, has spoken her first words since she was hospitalized in an Augusta, Ga.,  hospital on May 4 after contracting a flesh-eating disease, according to her father’s Facebook page.

Andy Copeland, who did not reveal the exact words Aimee Copeland said, on Sunday updated his page with the message: “Our baby can talk. Details will follow later today.”

On Monday, Andy Copeland further described the conversations he had with his daughter Sunday evening on a blog he set up to chronicle his daughter’s recovery.

“Aimee was expressive and she clearly elucidated her thoughts,” he wrote.  “Her long term memory was intact. … We discussed ideas of how to utilize wilderness therapy/eco-psychology for amputees. We talked about her current physical condition. We smiled and at times we said nothing.”

Andy Copeland wrote in the blog that later in the evening his daughter began to get tired and simply mouthed words, but he said that she remained in good spirits.

By Monday afternoon, more than 200 well-wishers had posted comments on Andy Copeland’s Sunday update in which he proclaimed it to be “Aimee Day,” in honor of his daughter recovering her ability to speak.  A more recent update had garnered more than 130 messages of encouragement.

Aimee Copeland’s struggle with the flesh-eating disease, known broadly as necrotizing fasciitis, began on May 1, when an accident on a homemade zip line slashed open her calf and a common waterborne bacterium infected the wound.  She lost the injured leg and doctors removed her other limbs to prevent the spread of infection to her blood, her father has said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Girl with Flesh-Eating Disease Faces 'Horror,' 'Depression'

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Aimee Copeland, the Georgia student who lost her leg to a rare flesh-eating infection after a zip line injury, is smiling and laughing, according to her family.  But the 24-year-old can't remember the events that landed her in critical condition, and faces an extreme psychological adjustment when she does.

"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," Copeland's father, Andy Copeland, wrote in a blog dedicated to his daughter's recovery.  "How would you respond in such a situation?  I think that moment will be one of horror and depression for Aimee."

Medications designed to keep Copeland calm have blurred her memory of the May 1 accident that cut open her calf, inviting the life-threatening infection that claimed her leg and threatens to take her fingers.  But despite her remarkable physical recovery, the psychological wounds of realizing she lost a limb could be harder to heal.

"I want to ask everyone to pray for my child's psyche and for her self-awareness to not be focused on her physical being," Andy Copeland wrote.  "Please pray that she will have understanding."

The ventilator pumping oxygen into her lungs makes it impossible to speak.  But soon, the breathing tube will be removed, allowing Copeland 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," Andy Copeland wrote.

For Copeland, an active and ambitious graduate student, news of the amputation could trigger grief rivaling the physical pain of the infection, according to Dr. Harsh Trivedi, chief-of-staff at Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital in Nashville, Tenn.

"For someone who was in good health to be in this situation all of a sudden, that's a pretty substantial loss," he said, alluding to the physical loss of a limb as well as the loss of opportunities in life.  "There's almost a grieving process that needs to occur, and that can lead to feelings of depression over how different life is now compared to literally two weeks ago."

Remembering details from the zip line accident also raises the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition marked by haunting flashbacks, Trivedi said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Georgia Student with Flesh-Eating Disease Shows Signs of Recovery

WSB/ABC News(AUGUSTA, Ga.) -- Aimee Copeland, the Georgia student battling flesh-eating disease after a zip line injury, is showing signs of recovery, her family said on Thursday.  But the 24-year-old is still fighting for her life, relying on a ventilator to breathe.

"Her condition is still critical," Copeland's father, Andy Copeland, told reporters at a press conference in Augusta, Ga.  "If they were to unhook the ventilator, I don't know that she could breathe on her own."

Aimee Copeland was riding a homemade zip line near the Little Tallapoosa River on May 1 when the line snapped, causing a gash in her left calf.  Bacteria that burrowed deep into the wound caused necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but deadly infection that on Friday forced doctors to amputate her leg.

"It's a miracle she made it past Friday night," Andy Copeland told ABC News affiliate WSBTV.

Aimee may also lose her hands and her right foot, her father said.

"I couldn't conceive of what it would be like for my daughter to lose her hands and the only other foot she has, as well, and that appears to be what is going to happen," he told WSBTV.  "The most important thing is my daughter is still alive."

Although she's still on a ventilator, Aimee is alert and able to nod and shake her head, according to a Facebook page dedicated to her recovery.

"Seeing Aimee this morning was so refreshing," wrote her sister, Paige.  "My hope for her recovery is stronger than ever!"

The bacteria thought to have triggered the infection, Aeromonas hydrophila, thrives in warm climates and fresh water, like the river where Aimee was kayaking and zip lining with friends.  But experts say it rarely causes flesh-eating disease.

"This bacteria is a common cause of diarrheal illness," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.  "For it to cause a deep wound infection that dissolves tissue, that's not common."

Although the infection is rare, it's extremely dangerous.  Mortality rates for Aeromonas-related necrotizing fasciitis are upward of 60 percent, according to a 2010 report published in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews.  The sooner the infection is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


After Zip Line Injury, Student Fights Flesh-Eating Disease

Aimee Copeland, 24, contracted flesh-eating disease during a zip line accident. (WSB/ABC News)(ATLANTA) -- A Georgia woman is fighting for her life after contracting a flesh-eating disease during a zip line accident.

Aimee Copeland, a 24-year-old master's student at the University of West Georgia, hopped on a homemade zip line during a kayaking trip with friends in Carrollton, Ga. But the line broke, cutting a gash in Copeland's left calf and introducing a life-threatening infection that on Friday claimed her left leg and part of her abdomen.

"It's a miracle she made it past Friday night," Copeland's father, Andy, told ABC affiliate WSB-TV.

Cuts in the skin open the door for a flesh-eating disease, officially known as necrotizing fasciitis, a rare strep infection that burrows deep into wounds and destroys the surrounding tissue.

"The bacteria produce enzymes that can dissolve muscle deep down," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "And because it's so deep, it can be a sneaky infection that's not immediately appreciated by the patient."

After the injury last Tuesday, Copeland went to a nearby emergency room where doctors closed the gash with 22 staples. But she returned to the hospital the next day complaining of severe pain.

"The symptom that should ring alarm bells is serious, unremitting pain," said Schaffner. "An otherwise healthy individual with a seemingly superficial injury who has severe pain should have a much more thorough evaluation."

Doctors sent Copeland home with a prescription for painkillers. She returned to the hospital again Thursday and was released again, this time with antibiotics. On Friday, Copeland was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, and her left leg was amputated at the hip.

"The two main treatment options are antibiotics to kill the bacteria and surgery," said Schaffner, adding that bacteria left behind can invade the blood. "You have to look at the wound and think, 'This is as far as the infection has gone; now I have to cut even further.'" Where the infection came from is unclear, but Schaffner said the most likely culprit is Copeland's own throat.

"It could have come from an outside source; some other person who was perhaps helping clean and dress the wound," he said, adding that the bacteria is transmitted through respiratory droplets. "But more often than not, sadly, it turns out to be the patient's own bacteria."

Frequent hand washing, and avoiding people with sore throats can help reduce the risk of flesh-eating disease, according to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation. And all cuts, no matter how small, should be cleaned and covered with sterile bandages.

Since the amputation, Copeland's recovery has been touch and go. On Tuesday, one week after the accident, her temperature spiked and she lost her pulse.

"They actually were able to do CPR and resuscitate her very quickly," Andy Copeland told WSB-TV. "I don't want people with long faces right now because we already had a miracle Friday night when she survived. … I just believe we have to stay positive right now to honor Aimee."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Wash. Boy, 11, Recovers From Flesh-Eating Bacteria: Miracle of Science?

Chad Baker/Photodisc/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) -- In 2006, Jake Finkbonner almost died of a flesh-eating bacterial infection. His family believes he survived because of a modern-day miracle, which the Vatican is investigating as it considers a Native American who lived three centuries ago for sainthood.

While Jake's survival was a reason to be joyous and grateful, infectious disease experts said it was more likely due to the medical and surgical attention he received, and not because of a miracle.

Five years ago, Jake, then 6, contracted a flesh-eating bacterial infection when he cut his lip during the final game of his basketball season.

The aggressive bacteria, strep A, had entered into Jake's bloodstream through the small cut, and doctors said he was fighting necrotizing fasciitis, a rare but very severe type of bacterial infection that can destroy muscles, skin and underlying tissue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 percent to 15 percent of patients with invasive group A streptococcal disease die, and about 25 percent of patients with necrotizing fasciitis die from their infections.

Jake was treated in the trauma unit at Seattle Children's Hospital by Dr. Craig Rubens, a renowned pediatric infectious disease specialist who suspected Jake had been infected with strep A.

Doctors said that it was difficult to stay ahead of the infection, and Jake's physical state worsened, KOMO reported.

"It got to the point where we called in a priest to give his last rites," Jake's mother, Elsa Finkbonner, told KOMO.

The Rev. Tim Sauer arrived and encouraged the family to pray to God through the intercession of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who lived more than 300 years ago. A Native American who converted to Catholicism, Tekakwitha had smallpox, which had left her face scarred. But her scars disappeared after she died, according to legend. Tekakwitha, beatified in 1980, is on the pathway to sainthood.

Sauer told NPR that he thought of appealing to Tekakwitha because, like Jake, she also contracted a disease that left her face scarred, and Jake was also of Native-American ancestry.

As his condition grew dire, Jake recalled what he thought would be his final hours.

"I went and saw God up in heaven, and I asked if I could stay in heaven because it was a beautiful place," Jake told KOMO. "But he refused to let me because he said my family needed me down here on Earth."

The day that Jake's classmates prayed for him and a relic of Tekakwitha was given to the family was the same day the bacteria stopped spreading.

Now, five years later, Vatican officials are investigating the case to see whether Jake's recovery was a miracle. The Rev. Peter Paul Pluth, who is helping to coordinate the investigation, said it's a detailed process.

"It has to be rigorous," he told NPR, "because we do not want to submit to the pope a statement unless we are absolutely, morally certain that this case merits to be approved by him a miracle by God."

"He was extremely fortunate to be in an outstanding hospital receiving outstanding medical treatment," said Dr. Stanford Shulman, chief of infectious diseases at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "Craig Rubens is an outstanding pediatric infectious disease specialist and an expert on group A strep infections. I think the fact that he was involved shows Jake really did get truly outstanding care."

And Dr. Marcus Zervos, chief of the department of infectious diseases at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, said that while necrotizing fasciitis is a very serious infection, it is treatable.

Zervos said he does believe in miracles, and that God can work through hospitals, physicians and traditional medical care.

"But when I see something like this, I know it can be explained through the usual medical care that we give the patient through good ICU care or good antibiotics and supporting complications," continued Zervos.

Zervos said the story is interesting and important to infectious disease news, and adds to the conversation of when miracles and science collide.

"We've made many successes in treatments of these diseases and preventing their spread," said Zervos. "What would really be a miracle is if we could eliminate the infection all together."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 

ABC News Radio