Aimee Copeland to leave hospital Monday to start rehab, father says

This undated family photo shows 24-year-old Georgia graduate student Aimee Copeland.
Personal Photo
aimee copeland
Personal Photo

(CBS/AP) A Georgia graduate student diagnosed with a rare flesh-eating infection will soon leave the hospital where doctors gave her little chance of surviving, her father said Tuesday.

Doctors plan to discharge 24-year-old West Georgia University graduate student Aimee Copeland on Monday. Instead of going home, she'll move to an inpatient rehabilitation clinic and spend the next several weeks learning to move herself with the aid of a wheelchair.

PICTURES: Ga. student fights to survive flesh-eating bacterial infection

"She's real excited about leaving," Copeland's father, Andy Copeland, told the Associated Press on Tuesday. "She just wants a change of venue."

Copeland was diagnosed with a rare case of necrotizing fasciitis following a May 1 accident in which Aeromonas hydrophila bacteria - found in warm brackish waters - invaded a deep cut she suffered after falling from a broken zip-line along the Tallapoosa River. Typically necrotizing fasciitis is caused by Strep bacteria.

The bacterial infection emits toxins that cut off blood flow to parts of the body. It can destroy muscle, fat and skin tissue. Copeland had to have her left leg, right foot and both hands amputated.

Copeland's speedy recovery has defied doctors' initial prognosis. Her father says they at first gave her just a slim chance of surviving. She spent weeks sedated and breathing on a respirator while undergoing amputations and skin grafts to replace large patches of infected skin. The procedures have caused Copeland a great deal of pain.

On Monday, hospital officials said Copeland's condition was upgraded to from serious to good.

HealthPop reported on Monday that Aimee's parents were able to take her outside the hospital's doors in her wheelchair for the first time in 49 days.

"To say she was elated is a massive understatement," Andy Copeland said. "It was a difficult thing for her to conjure up the energy to actually go outside, but it did her more good than harm."

Copeland's father declined to say where her rehabilitation treatment will take place. First, he said, she will spend about two months learning to move just her amputated limbs - as in shifting from her bed to her wheelchair.

After that, Copeland will move on to another round of therapy in which she'll learn to use prosthetic limbs. Meanwhile, Copeland hopes to use any spare time to work on her master's thesis in psychology. Her father said her goal is to graduate from the University of West Georgia in December.

"She is very ambitious with her plan right now," Andy Copeland said. "She said, 'You know, I want to have that done and I want to be able to walk in December.' She meant walk across the stage in prosthetic limbs and get her master's degree. I don't know when she's going to find time to work on her thesis. But she's going to work it out."