Surviving flesh-eating bacterial infection, Aimee Copeland is 'reborn'

- "Happy" doesn't even begin to describe Aimee Copeland these days.

"I am in an absolutely fantastic place," the 29-year old says. "I have developed this extremely fulfilling life."

And sometimes, working with adaptive cooking equipment in her Midtown Atlanta kitchen, Copeland says she'll stop, and remember just how far she's come.

"Five years ago, I had no idea what my life was going to look like," Copeland says. "I had no idea if I'd ever get back to living my life like I had before, going on adventures, cooking, having fun."

Because, almost overnight in May of 2012, the then 24-year old University of West Georgia grad student became national news as she fought for her life. Her ordeal began May 1, 2012 as Copeland was zip-lining with some friends on a river near her home in West Georgia.

When it was her turn to zip-line, the line snapped and Copeland fell onto the sharp rocks below, badly cutting her leg.

Three days later, she was diagnosed with a deadly flesh-eating bacterial infection known as necrotizing fasciitis.

As she fought for survival, surgeons removed both of her hands, her right foot and her entire right leg, leaving Copeland a quadruple amputee at 24.

"I think my experience, coming so close to death, and then losing a lot of my abilities and my conception of who I was, I was sort of reborn," Copeland says.

Today, she owns her own home in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward, works as a psychotherapist, and is in a happy long-term relationship. She's also writing a book about how nearly dying taught her how to live.

"And I had many dark nights of the soul, where I cried and I screamed, and I wondered why me," she remembers.  "And, ultimately, through a lot of failing and making a lot of mistakes, I learned that, if I wanted to achieve my goals in life, if I wanted to have fun and live a fulfilling life, I had to take action. I had to get up and keep trying."

Before her zip line accident, before her service dog Bella came into her life, Copeland had loved the outdoors, so much so, she planned working in eco-therapy, using nature to help people heal.

"And what nature reminds me, is that I'm complete, and whole, and perfectly imperfect just as I am," Copeland says.

That feeling inspired her to found The Aimee Copeland Foundation, to help people with disabilities get outdoors and find their own healing.

"I think so many people have a traumatic injury or illness and they tend to give up," she says.

To draw the disabled community into nature, Copeland wants to buy a piece of land in metro Atlanta and create a wheelchair-accessible holistic therapy center. She hopes to provide adaptive recreation for visitors of all abilities, where people can do community gardening, camping, hiking, fitness and nutrition classes.

Copeland, who is a licensed clinical social worker, will also provide individual and group therapy and workshops for people with physical and mental disabilities.

The Amy Copeland Foundation is currently looking for a piece of land in metro-Atlanta, hoping to break ground in 2019. Achieving her dream of giving people of all abilities a bridge to the beauty around them will take time.

But Aimee Copeland plans to once again prove anything is possible.

"(I want) to show that people with disabilities want to get out, we're here," she says.  "If you build it, we will come."

If you would like to meet Aimee Copeland, or support her vision to create a holistic outdoor center for people of all abilities, she is organizing "Eudamonium: The Good Life Festival" September 9, 2017 from 3pm to 7pm in Candler Park.

For more information about the event and to learn more about The Aimee Copeland Foundation, visit www.aimeecopelandfoundation.org.

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