Classmates plan blood drive to honor student battling flesh-eating bacteria

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CARROLLTON, Ga. - The first major event to help Aimee Copeland, the local college student fighting off a flesh-eating bacteria, is set for Tuesday at the University of West Georgia.

"The response has just been unbelievable," said Gary Duke, owner of the Sunnyside Cafe where Copeland worked.

Next to photographs of Copeland at the cafe, there are signs for Tuesday's blood drive in her name.

"We're a small town. A lot of people know her," Duke said.

Copeland fell from a homemade zip line in Carroll County on May 1 and cut her leg.

The wound became infected with a bacteria commonly found in water, which attacked her system.

The infection forced doctors to amputate her leg in order to save her life and since then, she's been in critical condition, fighting to breathe on her own as doctors try to save other limbs.

"The doctors are doing the best they can to try to save as much of her extensions -- her hands -- as they possibly can," said her father, Andy Copeland, from Augusta where she's receiving specialized care.

"The medical staff here are just doing everything they can for our daughter," he added.

Her parents say Aimee Copeland is not fully aware of what happened to her, but is trying to communicate. They have to read her lips.

She's expressed concern over the thesis she was working on at the University of West Georgia, and her job at the cafe.

Friend and co-worker Kara Dermo said that shows the kind of person Aimee Copeland is -- strong, determined, fun and a fighter.

Dermo is helping put together an event she said Aimee would have organized for anyone else in her condition -- a blood drive, that could also benefit other patients.

"Most people have told me they've never done it before and it's going to be their first time to give blood," Dermo said.

"It's gonna be mine too. I'm really nervous about that, but I can't wait," she added.

The blood drive will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the University of West Georgia student center gym.

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Victim of bacteria gives message of hope

As Aimee Copeland remains in critical condition, her story has hit close to home for one metro Atlanta woman who nearly died from the same bacteria.

"All your dreams die and everything that you've ever known is different," survivor Eileen Tamblyn told Channel 2's Diana Davis.

Four years ago Tamblyn woke up out of medically induced coma after an infection with the same flesh eating bacteria that is affecting Copeland.

Doctors amputated Tamblyn's right leg from the hip down.

"I woke up and they were cleaning me and I realized they weren't cleaning my right leg. That's when I found out," Tamblyn said.

The wife and mother told Davis she rarely asked, 'why me?' And drew on her faith, believing God had a plan.

"If he had allowed this to happen then there was a reason for it. And that he would get me through it," Tamblyn.

A one-time runner, she underwent months of rehab, learning to sit up and roll over again.

She not only learned to walk with her prosthetic leg, but has skied too.

Tamblyn said she's followed Aimee Copeland's story from the start, even reached out to the family on Facebook and believes she knows how the Copleands feel.

"The not knowing, the wondering how is she ever going to get on with life? Be the bright vibrant person that she seems like she is?" Tamblyn said.

Like Copeland, at first Tamblyn was not expected to live. She said the support of her family and friends got her through. Her message to everyone is simple.

"You've got to be grateful for what you have, for where you are in life. I think people can take their health for granted and not realize how much they could lose in a split-second," Tamblyn said.

Tamblyn said one of her toughest challenges has been losing her independence. She said she now has to ask for help and accept it, which has been difficult.
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