Pastor Shares Testimony of Surviving Flesh-Eating Disease; Tells Aimee Copeland to 'Keep the Faith'

As supporters stand amazed at the recovery of 24-year-old Aimee Copeland from necrotizing fasciitis, more commonly known as the rare "flesh-eating disease," another survivor of the often deadly disease has shared his story of suffering and recovery with The Christian Post, believing that his testimony, as well as Copleand's, could change someone's life for eternity.

Copeland, a university student who contracted the disease in May after a calf injury, is finally on her way to recovery after several health struggles and close calls. Her parents, committed Christians, have said on several occasions that they believe God has been answering their prayers and helping doctors in their daughter's recovery.

In a post last month on his blog, Andy Copeland shared a testimony on his daughter's journey, first letting readers know that there was "no doubt that the blood of Jesus Christ is the foundation of our faith."

He added, "It is through this faith that Aimee lives today. It also needs to be understood that the power of prayer is at work in our lives and that the prayers of millions have powered Aimee's recovery."

Copeland added the he hoped that his family could "demonstrate through our testimony that God is alive."

Pastor Mark Wood of Calvary Baptist Church in Oak Hill, W. Va., told CP that he, too, believes that God spoke through his contraction of the rare flesh-eating disease, ultimately sending him back to ministry, a vocation he had given up.

Wood contracted the rare disease in 2009, during a time when he had strayed from his pastoral duties and was working for the U.S. Press printing company in Valdosta, Ga.

Although he had promised God that he would return to working with the church as soon as He provided the opportunity, the pastor confessed he became distracted and missed the call.

"To be honest I missed that, the door was open but I enjoyed where I was more so than being where God wanted me to be. And this was the event that helped me realize that," Wood said, referring to his battle with the flesh-eating disease.

Now, looking back at his journey to recovery, the pastor says he believed he had a near-miss experience by the grace of God.

Initially, Wood started experiencing flu-like symptoms in December of 2009. Eager to reach the weekend to get some rest, Wood saw no point in visiting the doctor, and decided he would simply wait for his supposed seasonal flu to pass.

After the symptoms remained and an acute pain in his right buttock grew, Wood visited his general practitioner, who told him he simply had a blocked hair follicle. He was prescribed medication and told that if the pain did not subside, he would be able to receive surgery on the small bump on his buttocks in a few days.

Wood told CP that after his first surgery, he "had actually felt the best that (he) had felt in days, and thought that it was all over." He was still unaware that he had necrotizing fasciitis.

Wood's wife, Sherry, was first to know of the disease when doctors eventually detected its presence in Mark's tissue, but she did not tell her husband of his rare and dangerous condition because, as Mark describes it, "I tend to panic sometimes." After he had endured a second surgery, Wood's wife finally told him the truth.

It was at that moment that he and Sherry "made a commitment, between ourselves and with God, that we were going to make it through this with His help," he said.

After a fourth operation, followed by three months of rehabilitation, Wood was cleared of the flesh-eating disease.

"I firmly believe I dodged a bullet by the grace of God," he said of his survival of the disease, which has a mortality rate of 60 percent of cases, according to the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews.

"My surgeon, who had at that time some 35 years of experience, was absolutely amazed at the progress that they were able to work at it as quickly as they did. He always said 'you dodged a bullet,'" Wood shared.

It was during his time in rehabilitation that he realized that God had in fact provided an opportunity for him to practice his pastoral duties once more.

"At this point I said, 'I realize that I have gone back on my promise, and if You provide the door I am going to run through it," Wood told CP.

Within two months of ending his rehabilitation, Wood was pursuing his pastoral vocation once more.

When asked what words of encouragement he had for 24-year-old Aimee Copeland also fighting her way through a battle with necrotizing fasciitis, the West Virginia minister said his advice was simply for her to "keep the faith."

"I have personally seen many lives changed for eternity because of the witness shown during the time of illness and recovery. I remember reading Joni Erickson Tada saying that when tradgedy befalls you each day is a day that you can begin in the arms of Jesus. I agree. What a great place to start our days," he said.

In his May 22 blog post, Aimee's father concluded his remarks by writing: "I believe that it is my duty as Aimee's father to share our testimony of faith, love and hope and demonstrate through our testimony that God is alive. He provides miracles, but we have to ask for those miracles and have faith that he will intercede for those who appear hopeless. I pray that God's name will be glorified and that His power will be magnified, through which ultimately our blessings will be multiplied."