There But For The Grace Of God… And My Vulnerability To Bacteria


A sad trauma and drama is unfolding as CNN has been reporting for the last 24 hours that a young college girl of 24 years is being consumed by one of those flesh-eating bacterias.  It seems Aimee Copeland was just enjoying a recreational activity… a zip line run over a creek.. and she fell and cut her leg rather severly, requiring a number of staples to close.  But a common, not usually deadly, bacteria entered her body through the injury.  As of this writing the doctors had to amputate her right leg and a part of her abdomen.. and likely both her hands and her left foot will need to be amputated.  Today it’s being reported by her father, Andy Copeland, that she is somewhat improving and asking to have a breathing tube removed.  Her father indicated in an interview that he and his wife have yet to inform their daughter of the impending amputations, preferring to address that after she regains the ability to be free from breathing aids.

On so many levels this is truly one of those gross tragedies of life one never expects as they go about their daily lives.  We’ve heard of these flesh-eating bacterias in the past.. the most aggressive ones eating facial tissue and making the victims totally unrecognizable and requiring advanced surgery for reconstruction.  Other aggressive bacteria has resulted in amputations such as Aimee has experienced.. and many people have just plain died… within a matter of hours.  This is scary stuff.

The doctors will tell you that most of us are either immune or pass through life not having injuries that penetrate the skin within environments that allow for such bacteria to flourish.  What Aimee has is apparently called  Aeromonas Hydrophila … allegedly not an uncommon bacteria found in bodies of fresh water, and typically affects fish more than humans.  The effect of this bacteria on her body is called, necrotizing fasciitis, flesh-eating, and it is extrordinarily rare for humans to acquire this infection to this degree.  It typically strikes humans who might have natural vulnerability issues to such bacteria and in Aimee’s case it proved to be a bad mix of just plain bad luck; a perfect storm of events… her normal genetic vulnerability coupled with her timing in having such an injury in a body of water that allowed the bacteria to enter.

There was a point in her initial treatment where she actually had to be resusitated.  As a parent myself… understanding the likely outcome and dramatic change to her life and ability to live any sort of a normal life, besides all the physical appearence aspects… and the unknowns involved in her future mental attitude toward life… I couldn’t help but think I might prefer that my child not suffer anymore and allow her to pass.  Of course, one can’t second guess being there and decisions like that are always a struggle to make.. and being human we are always hoping for the best.  But if this young person survives we cannot even imagine how this might affect her.

But… as a personal note, I can understand a bit about how nasty bacteria can get.  In reality there is something like 100,000 different forms of bacteria and the truly toxic stuff to humans is like 100 of those.  Some bacteria is “good”.. helping our digestive tract and other body functions.  Others, called priobotics, are found in food supplements used in yogurt and other food products.  Although, I did manage to find one of those nasty one’s myself one day.

I was bringing up a chair from the basement of our home one day and the route required a little maneuvering to slip through the basement door.  My right hand bumped against the side cinder block doorway, causing a skin scrape.  It was one of those “injuries” that one even barely notices.  You just do the “Ouch!” and move on.

Within the next 6 hours I felt a slight pain traveling up my arm… followed by my elbow joint becoming very painful and slowly becoming immobile; I had trouble moving my arm… and I recall having had a low grade fever.  It all bothered me enough to visit the ER.  Once there they removed and evaluated some fluid from my elbow joint they determined that I might have a kind of cellulitis being caused by a  Staphylococcus and/or Streptococcus infection as a result of the scrape on my hand.  At the time I was amazed that a seeming minor skin scrape on my hand could cause something so dramatic at my elbow.  I was also amazed that I had apparently managed to avoid this kind of infection for the first 45 years (at the time) of my life, given all the scrapes and cuts one gets in life.  But my little brush with bad bacteria is nothing compared to those who suffer from the deadly infections.  Yet it does illustrate how vulnerable human life can be to our environment.

As for young Aimee… whatever her outcome one can only hope her personal suffering… physical, mental, and biological… is bareable for her.  For the rest of us reading about her fight we might pause in our busy day to momentarily reflect how our own lives might be affected… and there, but for the grace of God……………..

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