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Atlanta Journal-Constitution , Published May 18 2012

Many learn on Facebook that woman with flesh-eating disease may face more amputations

ATLANTA - Overwhelmed by the worldwide response to her suffering, Aimee Copeland's family has, for now, retreated into a cone of silence, a hospital spokeswoman said Friday.

But those caught up in the Snellville woman's struggle can still follow it via an elaborate running account on a Facebook page maintained by her father, Andy Copeland.

By Friday, the page had more than 54,000 “likes,” a number that swelled by the hundreds from hour to hour.

The University of West Georgia student, who lost her left leg after a zip-lining accident resulted in a rare bacterial infection, is hospitalized at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta. Hospital officials are releasing no details about her progress, saying only that she remains in critical condition.

According to a lengthy Facebook entry posted by her father Friday, Aimee Copeland learned Thursday that she faces more amputations.

Before describing her reaction, he wrote of the moment when a doctor gave him the grim news.

“I was a bit apprehensive when I saw Aimee's pulmonologist,” he wrote. “As we approached him, he went into a semi-squat, hands on his knees, much like a shortstop getting ready for the next pitch. He reached up and pulled his reading glasses down to the tip of his nose and made eye contact. I took a deep breath and braced myself.”

Then he takes readers inside Aimee's hospital room.

“I took Aimee's hands and held them up to her face. She didn't draw back in horror. She knew the condition she was in,” according to the father's narrative on the page “Believe and pray for a miracle to happen for Aimee Copeland.”

“Aimee, I do not want anything to happen to you,” Copeland records himself as saying. “Your mind is beautiful, your heart is good and your spirit is strong. These hands can prevent your recovery from moving forward. The doctors want to amputate them and your foot today to assure your best possible chance of survival.”

After the family explained that she would eventually be fitted with prosthetics, her father wrote, she displayed what he has often described as her trademark courage.

“She smiled and raised her hands up, carefully examining them. She then looked at us. We all understood her next three words. ‘Let's do this.’ ”

It was unclear Friday whether Aimee Copeland has actually undergone further amputations.

Copeland, a bright-eyed blonde woman, has become a symbol of resilience since the May 1 zip-lining excursion along the Little Tallapoosa River near Carrollton. The homemade zip line broke, and she fell into the river, cutting her leg on a rock.

Doctors believe the bacterium Aeromonas hydrophila, typically found in warm climates and waters, entered through the wound. In the following days, that led to necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection that causes body tissue to die.

When news of her condition became public, the calls from reporters started coming, and the family held a handful of news conferences. “It is therapeutic for me to talk about it ... I am a very expressive person,” Andy Copeland told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on May 11.

A few days later, a person who identified himself as Andy Copeland, went on CockyTalk, an online forum devoted to his alma mater, the University of South Carolina, to tout a blood drive in Aimee's name. There, he recounted his dealings with the media.

“I have been inundated with phone calls from the Atlanta and Augusta affiliates. The national networks have been talking to me daily,” Copeland wrote. "Ann Curry called me the other day to ask for exclusive access to Aimee. I was busy and she left me a voice mail. The Toronto Star wants an interview. Talk radio stations in LA have called ...

“I say ‘we’ because this is a family affair for us. Donna and Paige are as big a part of this as Aimee is. We have come to accept the fact that our lives may never be the same again. While the opportunity exists to make a difference in the community, we need to seize it. Two weeks ago I would not have imagined that any of this to be possible. Today I firmly believe that anything is possible. We are only limited by the size of our vision and the grease of our elbows.”

But the weight of being, as he described it in that forum post, chosen by God to be “the spokesman for those who are suffering,” apparently became too much. On Friday, Barclay Bishop, a spokeswoman for the burn center, said the Copelands had stopped taking interview requests and asked to be left in privacy.