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Georgia Student Battles Flesh-Eating Disease

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Aimee Copeland, a 24-year-old graduate psychology student at the University of West Georgia, is battling a life-threatening, flesh-eating bacterial disease. She became infected after suffering a deep gash on her leg while zip-lining over a river, reported the Associated Press. She was reportedly kayaking with her friends and then used a homemade zip-line, stated the The Inquisitr. No media outlets have specified which river Copeland was at when she contracted the bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila into her wound, causing the infection that attacks soft tissue and muscle.

Thus far, Copeland has had one leg amputated and part of her abdomen removed to stop the spread of the disease. While doctors may have to amputate more limbs, her father points out tiny signs of improvement and remains optimistic she will recover.

"I couldn't conceive of what it would be like for my daughter to lose her hands and the only other foot she has, as well, and that appears to be what is going to happen," her father Andy Copeland told ABC affiliate WSB-TV. "The most important thing is my daughter is still alive."

The disease is rare with only about 750 cases each year, the AP reported. Copeland's particular strand of Strep generally breeds in "warm, brackish water," stated the Village Voice. Although rare, the disease is often fatal with mortality rates for Aeromonas-related necrotizing fasciitis upward of 60 percent, according to a 2010 report published in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews.

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In one remarkable survival story, Jake Finbonner, an 11-year-old Lummi boy, recently defeated the disease. He contracted the flesh-eating bacterial condition six years ago while playing basketball at the Boys & Girls Club. He fell and bumped his mouth against the base of a portable basketball hoop, the surface of which was contaminated with the Strep A bacteria called necrotizing fascitis, Indian Country Today Media Network reported in the article Lummi Boy Jake Finkbonner Beat a Flesh Eating Disease, Earns Inspirational Youth Award.

Finbonner was hospitalized for months before undergoing numerous surgeries to remove the necrotic flesh. Doctors warned his parents that his chances of survival were slim, and the devout Catholics began praying for the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha—a Mohawk-Algonquin woman born in 1656 who was disfigured by smallpox when she was four years old—to intercede on Jake’s behalf.

Finbonner's fate then took a miraculous turn. The same day, a relic of Tekakwitha was brought to the hospital from the national office of the Tekakwitha Conference, a Catholic Native American religious organization in Great Falls, Montana. With the relic lying on the pillow beside his head, Finbonner's vital signs began improving that day. Once the Vatican learned the Finkbonners had prayed to the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, he sent investigators to the hospital to learn more about Jake’s story. Doctors told the investigators they had no clear medical explanation for Jake’s recovery. These findings were forwarded to the Congregation for Causes of Saints, and now, the Blessed Kateria Tekakwith is the first American Indian to be certified a Saint by the Catholic Church.

Copeland's family, friends and college community are similarly hoping for a miracle. The students and faculty at the University of West Georgia gathered for a vigil on the night of May 10.

"Despite the fact that medical evidence says she should be dead, she isn't," Chris Aanstoos, one of Copeland's psychology professors, told WSB-TV. "I think that's what makes it so precious to so many people to see how amazing she really is."