Flesh-eating bacteria survivor Aimee Copeland goes home

ATLANTA (CNN) — Aimee Copeland was spending her first night at home Wednesday since flesh-eating bacteria forced the amputation of her hands, leg and foot three months ago.

Copeland’s first stop out of rehab was to Longhorn Steakhouse for lunch with her family, said her father, Andy. She then went to her parents’ house in Snellville, Georgia, and relaxed with her sister, Paige, watching Comedy Central while their parents went shopping.

Wednesday night, she will settle into a specially outfitted wing of her parents’ home that was built just for her and donated by a local homebuilder.

The 24-year-old University of West Georgia graduate student was out with friends May 1 near the Little Tallapoosa River, about 50 miles west of Atlanta, when the homemade zip line she was holding snapped. She fell and got a gash in her leg that required 22 staples to close.

Three days later, still in pain, she went to an emergency room, and doctors eventually determined she had necrotizing fasciitis caused by the flesh-devouring bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila.

Doctors had to carry out the amputations in order to save her life.

Copeland spent two months in an Augusta, Georgia, hospital before moving to rehab July 2.

Andy Copeland said Wednesday his daughter “loves” the 1,956-foot wing that was built for her. Pulte Homes, which constructed the addition, says the wing includes a living room, bedroom and bathroom along with a fitness room, sunroom, study room and three outdoor areas.

The wing also includes access ramps, an elevator, guide rails in the bathroom and a separate wash sink Copeland can use to clean her new prosthetics.

Copeland has been working hard on her rehabilitation, determined to live as independently as possible, her father says. The tough regimen requires 200 crunches in seven minutes, 400 leg lifts in seven minutes, and “an untold number of push-ups and something else that she calls ‘planks’ and ‘sideplanks.’ “

On his blog, Andy Copeland related his daughter’s reaction when he told her he was getting a van with a wheelchair lift. Aimee wanted no part of it, he wrote. She wants to drive herself around in a Prius.

“The simple fact is that between her ears, Aimee is 100%,” he wrote. “She knows that she can accomplish anything she wants and that lacking the hands or feet to accomplish such tasks is only a minor inconvenience.”

A number of bacteria that are common in the environment but rarely cause serious infections can lead to necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria syndrome. When the bacteria get into the bloodstream, such as through a cut, doctors typically move aggressively to excise even healthy tissue near the infection site in hopes of ensuring none of the dangerous bacteria remain.

The infection attacks and destroys healthy tissue and is fatal about 20% of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, estimates that fewer than 250 such cases occur each year in the United States, though estimates are imprecise since doctors do not have to report the cases to health authorities.

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