Aimee Copeland: Resuming the adventure

By Mary Loftus | Emory Medicine | April 7, 2015

In occupational therapy, Aimee Copeland focuses on learning to perform life skills and daily tasks with her prosthetic hands, such as eating lunch from Moe's.

In occupational therapy, Aimee Copeland focuses on learning to perform life skills and daily tasks with her prosthetic hands, such as eating lunch from Moe's.

Learning to control her prosthetic hands is a challenge for Copeland. "It feels like my hand is in wet concrete that has almost completely dried," she says, "and I have to try to move it."
Learning to control her prosthetic hands is a challenge for Copeland. "It feels like my hand is in wet concrete that has almost completely dried," she says, "and I have to try to move it."
Stairs and ramps are difficult to navigate with two prosthetic legs, requiring incredible strength and balance. Building up endurance is a large part of Copeland's physical therapy.
Stairs and ramps are difficult to navigate with two prosthetic legs, requiring incredible strength and balance. Building up endurance is a large part of Copeland's physical therapy.
Copeland has made several television appearances and is frequently asked to speak to student and community groups about her experiences
Copeland has made several television appearances and is frequently asked to speak to student and community groups about her experiences.
Copeland remains active¿she¿s been kayaking, does strength training, and has even been back on a zip line. (Image: Andrew Davis Tucker, UGA)
Copeland remains active—she’s been kayaking, does strength training, and has even been back on a zip line. (Photo credit: Andrew Davis Tucker, UGA)
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Back in 2012, Aimee Copeland's story — a freak accident that resulted in multiple amputations, when necrotizing fasciitis set in — garnered national attention. Since then, through grit, determination, and some high-tech hardware, this young woman is resuming her adventures, including college and kayaking. For months she has undergone the hard work of rehabilitation therapy at Emory Rehabilitation Hospital, located off Clifton Road.

The Accident

The zip line wasn't the fancy kind you see at resorts or parks, with safety straps and secure buckles. It was more of the homemade variety — bicycle bars sliding over a dog-runner cable.

Aimee Copeland, an athletic, adventurous graduate student in humanistic psychology at the University of West Georgia, was the first one to spot it.

Copeland had just finished her last final for her last class of the semester, and was ready to relax. After working the breakfast shift at Sunnyside Café in Carrollton the morning of May 1, 2012, she was hanging out with friends next to the Little Tallapoosa River, which ran right through the backyard of one of their houses.

"School was out, I was waitressing and bartending at night. I had just gone rock climbing with my boyfriend in Alabama a few days before," she says. "I was living the dream."

The group took turns on the zip line, skimming over the riverbed while hanging about six feet above the shallow water. On Copeland's second pass, the line snapped and she fell onto the rocks below. She could see her leg muscle through the deep, crescent-shaped cut in her leg, and passed out when the ambulance arrived. At the local ER, the wound was stapled up and she was sent home.

Four days later, after increasing pain and several more ER visits, she was on a life-flight to the JMS Burn Center in Augusta, diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis — commonly known as "flesh-eating bacteria" —which was spreading rapidly through her body.

"It could have been any of us, but it was me," Copeland says, in her typical, direct manner. "You can't live your life being paranoid, or in a bubble. The truth is, things like this happen when you least expect it."

For what happened next, see Emory Medicine magazine:
"The Evolution of Aimee Copeland"