"Today... May 27... ...is AIMEE DAY!!!"
With those words, Andy Copeland celebrated -- and invited thousands who have followed his family's struggles thanks to his online posts to join him -- a major milestone for his daughter Aimee, as she gamely battles a potentially deadly flesh-eating bacteria.
Two weeks ago, Andy Copeland wrote on his Facebook page that the family was anxiously looking forward to a special day he dubbed "Aimee Day," when his 24-year-old daughter could not only breathe on her own but also talk for the first time in weeks.
"We're going to celebrate that day forever for the rest of your life," Andy Copeland said he'd told his daughter, as she lay heavily medicated in a bed at Doctors Hospital in Augusta, Georgia. "It's the day that my daughter was delivered from this horrible, horrible disease."
In recent weeks, surgeons have amputated Aimee Copeland's hands, part of her abdomen, one of her legs, and her remaining foot in their effort to stay ahead of the disease.
Amid all these operations, there has been reported progress. Last week, for instance, the Georgia woman "finally stabilized to the point that she has not needed any ventilator assistance for over 24 hours," her father said.
Yet while she had joked and mouthed words, it wasn't until Sunday that Aimee Copeland's voice was heard again -- meaning the new holiday can now be etched into her family's calendars for years to come.
"Today Aimee has finally spoken her first words," Andy Copeland wrote succinctly, promising more details later.
His daughter was with friends on May 1 near the Little Tallapoosa River, about 50 miles west of Atlanta, when the zip line that she was holding snapped. She fell and got a gash in her left calf that took 22 staples to close.
Three days later, still in pain, she went to an emergency room, and doctors eventually determined she had necrotizing fasciitis caused by the flesh-devouring bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila.
Her father has written regularly since about her situation, with over 72,500 "likes" on his Facebook blog devoted to Aimee's fight. And the psychology department at the University of West Georgia -- where Aimee has been pursuing her master's degree in psychology -- also posted regular updates online.
A number of bacteria, which are common in the environment but rarely cause serious infections, can lead to the disease. When it gets into the bloodstream -- such as through a cut -- doctors typically move aggressively to excise even healthy tissue near the infection site in hopes of ensuring none of the dangerous bacteria remain.
The disease attacks and destroys healthy tissue and is fatal about 20% of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, estimates that fewer than 250 such cases occur each year in the United States, though estimates are imprecise since doctors do not have to report the cases to health authorities.
Since Copeland's struggle came to light, there have been reports of others fighting the same disease.
They include Lana Kuykendall, a South Carolina woman also diagnosed earlier this month, a few days after giving birth to twins. She has had at least 11 "debridement surgeries" but thus far no amputations, with her brother Brian Swaffer noting late last week that the disease is confined to his sister's legs and she, too, is breathing on her own.