On-going blood drive today for Georgia woman with flesh-eating disease

A blood drive is being held today at the University of West Georgia for Aimee Copeland, the young woman fighting a life-threatening, flesh-eating infection known as necrotizing fasciitis.

Andy Copeland, Aimee Copeland’s father, wrote Monday night that the family continues to be overwhelmed by well-wishers visiting the hospital where his daughter is recovering from an extreme case of flesh-eating disease.

The blood drive is being held today between 2 pm ET and 7 pm ET in the school gym. Part of Copeland’s recovery involves massive blood transfusions as her body tries to clear the bacteria toxins which are ravaging it.

Her left leg has already been amputated, and she will lose fingers on both hands, though doctors hope to save her palms, which will reportedly be helpful in managing future prosthetic devices. Though she is improving, the 24-year-old grad student is still in critical condition.

"We saw Aimee laugh and smile. She told us some things she wanted, we played games with her and she was very stimulated," Andy Copeland wrote in the blog where her family has been recording her progress since contracting the rare infection.

Copeland’s parents reported earlier than they have been able to communicate with her using hand gestures and lip reading. Because her breathing still needs the assistance of a breathing tube, Copeland is not able to carry on a conversation and ask the specifics of her hospitalization. She is apparently unaware of the reason she is there. While her father looks forward to the day she will be able to breathe on her own – a sign of marked improvement – he is apprehensive about confronting his daughter with the truth of her situation.

The flesh-eating infection took hold after Copeland fell off a zip line and slashed her leg. Normally healthy individuals are able to fight off bacterial infections acquired in this way, except for those who are immune-compromised, such as those who have HIV, who are drug/alcohol addicts, and those who have diabetes.

Copeland’s family disclosed that Aimee was recently diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease, which goes a long way to explain why a seemingly vibrant and healthy young adult came down with flesh-eating disease. Lupus is often treated with immunosuppressive drugs, which may have made her more susceptible.

In 2008, Dr. Chaim Putterman, chief of rheumatology at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, coauthored a report on eight lupus patients hospitalized with necrotizing fasciitis at his hospital. Two of them died. Putterman says both lupus itself, and the treatment for it, could increase patients’ risk of necrotizing fasciitis.

“Many of the medications that we use to treat lupus patients are what we call immunosuppressants,” said Putterman, who is not involved in Copeland’s treatment. “Increased infection is one of the known prices we pay for those medications.”

Additionally, adds Putterman, people with lupus have an immune system that is out of whack, so that even without taking drugs for it, they are more susceptible to infections.

The fact that she is 24 years old and otherwise healthy is very much in her favor, says the doctor. “Young adults are definitely much more resilient than individuals at the extremes of ages.” While her condition is improving, her recovery will be very long – lifelong, in fact.

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