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Father: 'I have never seen such a strong display of courage'

By Andy Copeland, Special to CNN
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Fri May 18, 2012
Aimee Copeland, left, poses with mom Donna, dad Andy and sister Paige in this undated family photo.
Aimee Copeland, left, poses with mom Donna, dad Andy and sister Paige in this undated family photo.

Editor's note: Andy Copeland is the father of Aimee Copeland -- a 24-year-old Georgia grad student who's battling a rare case of necrotizing fasciitis caused by the flesh-devouring bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila. On Friday he described the heart-wrenching task of telling his daughter that she would lose her hands to the disease. Copeland has given CNN permission to republish his remarkable online account detailing his efforts to save his daughter's life.

(CNN) -- I apologize for not posting any recent updates on Aimee. The past 48 hours have flown by like a whirlwind. Much has happened and my computer time has been extremely limited. I truly appreciate your patience and understanding.

That said, here is the account of Aimee's last 48 hours:

On Wednesday the doctors suggested that we remove the breathing tube and complete a tracheotomy. The fact is, the flesh wound on her abdomen makes it difficult for her to take deep breaths and cough, which means that she could get congestion in the lower part of her lung. Her pulmonologist made the suggestion for the tracheotomy and I was 100% in agreement. She hated the throat tube anyway (so did I) and the trache will make it easier for us to read her lips. Her respiratory therapy will also take a huge leap up in quality.

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Aimee is still a very sick girl, but her quality of care took a big step forward when she was approved for hyperbaric treatments. She is scheduled for a total of ten treatments that will help her regain more of the blood flow in her hands. Her hands have gone from a purplish hue to a reddish flesh tone. She can flex her wrists now as well. Unfortunately her fingers are beyond recovery.

Aimee Copeland was with friends west of Atlanta on May 1, when she she fell off a zip line.
Aimee Copeland was with friends west of Atlanta on May 1, when she she fell off a zip line.

Aimee knows about her hands now. She holds them up to her face, examines them and shrugs her shoulders as if to say, "yeah, so what?"

Aimee's sense of humor is intact. I rubbed her foot and laughed at some of the things she had mouthed and I told her "Aimee, you are as priceless as the Mona Lisa."

Aimee shook her head and lifted her pitifully swollen and atrophied hand toward her eyebrows as she mouthed some words. Paige, Donna and I looked at each other and back at Aimee. Whatever she wanted to say, she was adamant about it. We did our usual consonant/vowel breakdown and forced her to spell the word. Then we all burst out laughing.

Her words?

"I'm nothing like the Mona Lisa. She doesn't have eyebrows."

Later that night, we put the "Kokua Festival/Jack Johnson and Friends" CD on for her. The moment she heard "Better Together" she started swinging and bobbing her head while mouthing the words of the song. You'd have thought that she was grooving on the dance floor. In her limitless imagination, she was.

Thursday, May 17

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I once again apologize for the delay in providing this latest update on Aimee's condition. I feel that any report on her situation must be handled with love and compassion and thus it takes more time to deliver news of her medical developments. Past attempts to speed the delivery of such information have appeared to me to be cold and callous. I think you would agree that Aimee deserves better.

This morning Paige and I set off for the hospital first thing. The past two mornings Aimee had been in hyperbarics, which ran through and eliminated her morning visit. When I called this morning, the nurse said that Aimee was not going to hyperbarics. She also said the doctor wanted to talk to us.

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I was a bit apprehensive when I saw Aimee's pulmonologist. 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 .

"We need to talk about Aimee's hands and foot," he said as his eyes bored into mine. He didn't have to say anything. We had noticed a remarkable change over the past several days in Aimee's hands. They went from a splotchy purple color to a red tone and then to a pinkish flesh tone. Yesterday I had noticed them turning back to an angry red. Knowing all this, I nodded and he continued. The doctor explained that her body was trying hard to heal her hands, but the blood flow was too poor. There was an added risk of infection. The palm of her right hand had developed a sore. Today her hands had returned to their splotchy purplish coloration and they were actually hampering Aimee's recovery.

The massive loss of fascia on Aimee's left side also continues to present a big risk to her recovery. This weakens her ability to breathe deep and to cough, which further complicates her respiratory condition. The pulmonologist said that Aimee's respiratory condition was excellent following the tracheotomy that was performed the previous day. We had a window of opportunity to perform the amputations and have a successful outcome. If Aimee developed respiratory problems and her hands released an infection into her body, there was a risk that she could become septic again. As they usually do, the doctors were presenting us with a medical no-brainer. We had to do what is necessary to save Aimee's life.

A short time after this meeting with the pulmonologist, we convened in a meeting with him and three surgeons. I knew this decision was not being recommended lightly when I learned that they had flown in a noted plastic surgeon who specializes in hands. The hand surgeon confirmed our fears. The hands were endangering Aimee's progress. As always, my decision was simple.

"Do whatever it takes to give us the best chance to save Aimee's life."

Some people may criticize my decision and say we should have prayed over Aimee and asked God to heal her hands. Trust me, this we have done every day. I believe God has appointed and anointed Aimee's doctors as miraculous healers and I trust that their decisions are God-breathed.

I then asked the doctors if Donna, Paige and I could share these developments with Aimee. They responded that they wouldn't have it any other way.

As we walked back to Aimee's room there was a man talking loudly to her. He was flailing his arms and kicking his legs. At first I wondered if someone had sneaked into the ICU and was attempting to frustrate her. Then I noticed that the person was trying to get Aimee to follow his motions. He was her physical therapist.

When he saw us gowning up to enter the room, the therapist left. Aimee had a look of frustration on her face. She had been crying from her exertions, which must have been incredibly difficult for her. The look on her face warmed instantly the second we walked into the room. Her pulmonologist had even noted that Aimee's blood pressure rose when she saw us, which was a good thing.

A small tear rolled down the side of Aimee's face as she smiled and greeted us.

The next thirty minutes we took Aimee through the timeline of her illness. From the kayaking trip to the amputation of her leg to the miracle of her survival. We told her of the outpouring of love from across the world. We shared with her the Mike Luckovich editorial cartoon (from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). We told her of news conferences and television appearances. We told her that the world loved and admired her. We explained that she had become a symbol of hope, love and faith. Aimee's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. She was amazed.

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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.

"Aimee, these hands are not healthy," I explained. "they are hampering your progress."

Aimee nodded.

I explained the use of "pressers" and how the medication restricted the blood flow and collapsed the veins in her hands. I explained everything that the doctors explained to us.

"Aimee, I do not want anything to happen to you. 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."

Aimee nodded.

"Do you have any questions about any of what we have discussed?"

Aimee thought for a moment and mouthed some words. Paige caught her response and quickly interpreted.

"I'm a little confused, but I'll figure it out."

Aimee nodded to confirm the interpretation.

We went on to explain that Aimee would be able to use prosthetics to get around. That she would be fitted with artificial limbs to help her get around and perform normal daily functions. She nodded at this and asked if they would be fitting her immediately. We told her that she would need to continue to recover and the prosthetics would come later. She again nodded approvingly.

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."

A tear rolled down my face as I walked out of her room. I wasn't crying because Aimee was going to lose her hands and foot, I was crying because, in all my 53 years of existence, I have never seen such a strong display of courage. Aimee shed no tears, she never batted an eyelash. I was crying because I am a proud father of an incredibly courageous young lady.

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