By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A Georgia graduate student fighting a rare flesh-eating bacterial infection she contracted after being injured in a zip-line accident nearly three weeks ago is breathing on her own without the help of a ventilator, her father said.
The struggle to save 24-year-old Aimee Copeland from necrotizing fasciitis - a bacterial infection that can destroy muscles, skin and tissue - has been chronicled by her father, Andy Copeland, in a blog on the university's website.
"She has been off of the ventilator for over 10 hours," Andy Copeland wrote late on Sunday. "In other words, she is breathing completely on her own! How cool is that?"
Copeland, a student at West Georgia University, slashed her calf when the zip-line snapped May 1 along the Little Tallapoosa River near Carrollton, Georgia. Emergency room doctors closed the wound with 22 staples and released Copeland, but she was diagnosed with the infection after her conditioned worsened.
Surgeons amputated Copeland's left leg at the hip. Last week, she mouthed, "Let's do this" when told her hands and remaining foot would have to be amputated, her father wrote on Friday.
It is unclear from Andy Copeland's postings whether the additional amputations had already occurred. A hospital spokeswoman has declined to comment on the woman's condition.
In his Sunday night posting, Andy Copeland said he was reducing the time he spends on media interviews.
"Two of my most important responsibilities are to pray for and provide financial support for my family," he wrote. "Everything else, including blog posting, organizing blood drives and conducting media interviews is secondary."
Different bacteria can cause necrotizing fasciitis. Health experts say the "flesh-eating" infection is not communicable.
Two cases of flesh-eating infections have been reported recently in South Carolina as well.
A new mother of twins, Lana Kuykendall, 36, was admitted to Greenville Memorial Hospital on May 11, days after giving birth, with a painful spot on her leg that was ultimately diagnosed as necrotizing fasciitis.
Her brother, Brian Swaffer, said Kuykendall had undergone at least seven operations, was sedated, and only opened her eyes "a little bit, at times."
A former South Carolina fire chief, Glenn Pace, told a local television station he had been battling a flesh-eating bacteria since early April and had three surgeries on his foot.
A 1996 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were 500 to 1,500 cases of necrotizing fasciitis annually in the United States, with about 20 percent of them fatal. The National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation has said that estimate is probably low.
(Reporting by David Beasley and Harriet McLeod; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)