Aimee Copeland getting bionic hands

Now she wants to help others face hardships

Sunday, May 12, 2013 5:55 PM
Last updated Monday, May 13, 2013 8:34 AM
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A close call with death didn’t break Aimee Cope­land. Her spirit barely bent.

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Aimee Copeland will graduate with a master's degree in humanistic psychology this month.  SPECIAL
Aimee Copeland will graduate with a master's degree in humanistic psychology this month.

One year after losing her left leg, right foot and both hands to a devastating bacterial infection, the Snellville, Ga., resident said her academic background in psychology and a strong spiritual grounding helped her face the infection that almost took her life.

“Having that confrontation with death was very important to me,” Copeland said last week by phone. “I have very few fears at this point.”

For nearly two months, Copeland was treated for necrotizing fasciitis, sometimes called flesh-eating bacteria, at Augusta’s Joseph M. Still Burn Center at Doctors Hospital. Her story captured attention nationwide, as her father, Andy Copeland, chronicled her battle through Facebook and blog posts.

She contracted the disease May 1, 2012, when her leg was gashed as she fell from a zipline that broke over the Little Tallapoosa River. Doctors initially said Copeland had little to no chance of surviving.

Copeland is completing her master’s degree at the University of West Georgia this month. Her studies focus on humanistic psychology, or how the human experience is related to spiritual well-being.

“I had the philosophy that in life we can’t really say what’s good and what’s bad. You can’t place a value on it,” she said. “What seems terrible now could seem great later.”

Copeland’s positive attitude and enduring spirit made it easier to face challenges of the past year learning to live without her limbs, she said.

“Whatever test comes up, I feel like I’m doing pretty well,” Copeland said.

She uses an iPad Mini that rests in the elbow crook of her arm for daily tasks. Copeland can read books, highlight phrases, take notes and write five-page papers on the small device. The iPad also controls lights, fans and window shades in her bedroom.

Copeland’s memory of her hospital stay in Augusta is limited. Pain medications caused her to hallucinate, at one point mistaking her doctor for the father of her sorority sister.

She has a hazy memory of asking her parents where she was and why, and learning a lot at one time, including that her hands would be amputated.

“I was pretty doped up so I don’t feel like I had the emotional energy to respond,” Copeland said.

While she recovered at the hospital before leaving in July for an outpatient rehabilitation center in the Atlanta area, Copeland remembers the kindness of doctors and nurses. One nurse bought her a special water bottle to help with her dehydration.

Copeland said she has approached much of the past year with patience, but that there were low points in the journey. For two weeks in rehab, everything made her cry, she said.

She also went through natural stages of grief that she still experiences, Copeland said.

She has a difficult time looking at old photos of herself.

“It’s a big loss, almost like losing part of yourself,” she said about the amputations. “I almost feel like I did die a year ago and was reborn.”

When first beginning rehab, Copeland expected to walk within six months. This winter, she was fitted with a prosthetic left leg and walked for the first time again on two legs, but then found out that the cost was just past the limit of her health insurance coverage.

Copeland’s family is awaiting an appeal to the insurance company.

This week, Copeland reaches another big milestone. She flew to Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday to receive two bionic hands from Touch Bionics, a prosthetics company.

The new hands and fingers will be controlled by an iPhone app, or she can train her forearm muscles to tell her grip to open and close.

“It’s going to be amazing,” she said.

With the new prosthetics, Copeland wants to resume hobbies she enjoyed including knitting, sewing, jewelry-making and cooking. She also can’t wait to style her hair again.

“I’ve got to get myself together, back to previous functionality,” she said. “Once I get myself together, my mission is to help other people who are in this situation to do the same.”

This summer, Copeland hopes to work on a research project collecting data at an outdoor camp for disabled youth at Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina. She wants to study the “wilderness effect,” or how a natural environment improves the well-being and self-esteem of the disabled.

In August, she’s planning to start another graduate program to earn a master’s degree in social work from Valdosta State University’s online program.

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Gage Creed
Gage Creed 05/12/13 - 08:54 pm
What an amazing young woman!

What an amazing young woman! It is so refreshing to hear of such self-determination and will of spirit. Bravo Aimee Copeland...BRAVO!

v4vendetta 05/12/13 - 09:11 pm
Pretty girl!

great to hear ms. aimee Copeland is doing great and looking fabulous!

Darby 05/12/13 - 09:57 pm
She may not be a "hero" in the classic sense

or definition of the word, but she is certainly one heroic young woman.

scoopdedoop64 05/12/13 - 10:26 pm
Praise God

God is so good and thankfully Aimee knows the Jesus that gives us strength to face such hard trials. Aimee is a survivor!

itsanotherday1 05/12/13 - 11:08 pm
It is so uplifting to hear of

It is so uplifting to hear of people like this who fight through adversity and succeed when we have so many other stories of people who will rob and beat people with bats because he needed to get some money.

God bless this young woman for setting an example of what we all should strive to be.

wordwright 05/13/13 - 07:11 am
Her insurance company needs to cover the leg

Shame on the insurance company for holding this young woman back from walking. I wish I knew the name of the company. I would write a letter. This is what's wrong with insurance today. We (all of us who can) pay dearly for insurance for this type of catastrophe--it's time for the insurance to pay up. God bless you, Aimee--you've come so far!

curly123053 05/13/13 - 07:24 am
Go Aimee!!

Aimee is going to be an inspiration for many others with the testimony God has put on her. You keep moving forward Aimee. We are all behind you!

Dixieman 05/13/13 - 10:02 am

Great, uplifting story and wonderful person. Good for her, and may God bless her efforts.
Bet you that with this kind of positive attitude, hard work and self-reliance she is a Republican! (Even if she's not, I support her recovery anyway).

TrulyWorried 05/13/13 - 10:46 am
The best of everything

to Aimee - God bless you and give you continuous strength to carry on. The insurance company and those folks that have money left over (and I am sure that there are quite a few of them out there) should make every effort to get Aimee the financial help she needs and MORE than deserves. My age and limited income prevents it. And, don't play the lottery otherwise I would gladly split it with that young lady! God bless your family too Aimee - they have been through a lot - especially at the times they spent day and night at your bedside in Augusta.

willie7 05/13/13 - 11:58 am
A very strong individual who

A very strong individual who will serve as a great role model
to one who says, "I can't". May God continue to bless her!!!!!

Cadence 05/13/13 - 10:24 pm
Refused to give up

First she refused to die and now she refuses to stop living. She is a strong and amazing young woman.

edit: And not that it matters at all but she is very pretty!

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