POSTED: 9:22 a.m. HST, May 21, 2012
ATLANTA >> A young Georgia woman fighting a flesh-eating disease is now able to breathe on her own, a milestone that sent the family's spirits soaring, her father said Monday.
Aimee Copeland is now focused on taking each breath without the aid of a ventilator, which will help her lungs recover, her father, Andy Copeland, told The Associated Press. He wrote on his Facebook page a day earlier that "Aimee is being Aimee," cracking jokes, speaking candidly and displaying "her usual early morning grumpiness."
"The deep breathing has been wonderful for her," he said Monday.
"Right now, we're just taking each moment and treasuring it for what it's worth. I believe God is going to take care of the future."
Her hands were amputated Thursday because they'd turned purple and were threatening her recovery.
"It's almost like she had poison bags on the end of her arms," her father said.
She still feels like she has fingers, he said, a phantom sensation that sometimes occurs after the loss of limbs. Doctors had already amputated most of her left leg.
But she's maintained her positive outlook since the amputations, inspiring loved ones at her hospital bedside in Augusta and strangers around the globe, her father said.
"Her message doesn't reside in her ability to use her hands, it's her ability to use her heart and her mind," he said.
"I just thank God my daughter is alive."
The 24-year-old developed a rare condition called necrotizing fasciitis after cutting her leg May 1 in a fall from a homemade zip line over the Little Tallapoosa River in west Georgia.
Since then, her father has posted regular updates on his Facebook page. Late Sunday, he shared the news that she was breathing on her own.
She has remained on the ventilator at night as a precaution, he told the AP. When he asked Aimee what she thinks about to pass the time, she replied that she focuses on her breathing "and that's what she needs to be doing," he said.
Aimee Copeland has always been someone who connected with others through hugs, said her father, who has been more likely to shake hands than hug others.
Since his daughter's hospitalization, that's changed. He noticed it over the weekend, during a brief visit home to his Atlanta suburb, he said.
"I went to the bank in Snellville and someone went to shake my hand, and I ended up hugging everybody in the branch," he recalled. "Aimee has always been a hugging person, and in a really odd way, I believe that God is sharing Aimee's spirit through me. That's one of the things that has really kept me going."
Back in Augusta, when he told his daughter how she has changed him, she mouthed a response that he now cherishes.
He said she told him: "The power of love is undeniable."