Aimee Copeland, 24, of Snellville laughs with her former co-worker Anete Rickard at the Snellville Town Green on Friday while making her first public appearance after contracting the flesh-eating bacteria disease.
Aimee Copeland in Snellville
Aimee Copeland greets locals in appearance at Snellville Town Green.
SNELLVILLE -- Through four months of injury, recovery and rehab, Aimee Copeland has gotten a lot of things right -- the positive attitude, the will to overcome, an acceptance of what life has dealt her.
One thing she said Friday, though, in a press conference prior to her first public appearance back home in Snellville, was about as misguided as it gets.
"I hope I'm not a celebrity, gosh," the 24-year-old said with an honest smile. A room full of reporters, city officials and other well-wishers laughed. A few shouted, "You are." Just a few minutes prior, Aimee had been presented with a key to the city of Snellville.
She stood pat.
"It feels the same, honestly," she said. "I have the same friends and the same life."
So went another modest moment in the anything-but-ordinary life of Aimee Copeland, the South Gwinnett grad who made national headlines in May by surviving the rare flesh-eating bacteria that claimed her left leg, right foot and both hands.
Energetic and positive as ever, Copeland addressed the media at-large for the first time Friday.
She loves the fact that she inspires people, she said, but is still getting used to it.
"For a while I was like, 'OK, what did I inspire you to do today?'" Copeland said with a laugh. "And it took my boyfriend telling me that, for some people, it's just inspiring them to get through the day without complaining about the little tiny things."
Afterward, Copeland greeted the public on the Snellville Town Green.
"The city of Snellville has been so wonderful to me," she said. "They say it takes a village, and I think in my case it's never been as true. I just have so many people to thank here."
A few hundred people lined up to take their turns meeting Copeland, chatting and taking photos. Many cried while telling her what an influence she had had on their lives.
Natalie Helton, Annie Ahmed and Michelle Miranda -- ages 7, 6 and 7, respectively -- saw Aimee on TV and asked their mothers to take them to Snellville on Friday night.
"She's really brave," Natalie said.
Added Annie: "She was like amazing and brave, and I just can't believe that she was so happy all the time."
Kevin and Brenda Cooper brought their granddaughter to meet Aimee because she was having a hard time in school. Aimee told her to keep trying because "it's always worth it."
"She's making everybody say, 'Hey, If I can do it, you can do it,'" Kevin Cooper said.
While fighting back from a life-threatening disease is awe-inspiring in itself, those present Friday unfailingly pointed to Copeland's positive spirit as a guiding light.
Copeland herself pointed to her background and current thesis work in psychology -- not to mention her fellow patients at the Shepherd Center -- as her source of energy.
"I know just how much what you think becomes who you are," she said. "If you believe it it's going to be true. If you think, 'I'm never going to be able to do this,' you're not going to be able to do it."
"Even when I'm feeling down, I can't completely hold it back," she added. "It comes pretty naturally."
Still ahead for Copeland lie the challenges of relearning how to drive and walk, the fitting of a prosthesis for her still-sore left leg and plenty of work on her thesis on wilderness therapy for amputees. She still plans to graduate on time with her master's degree from the University of West Georgia.
There are good moments and bad. Phantom limb and nerve pains still come and go. Seemingly endless appointments fill her schedule.
But one thing's for sure: There's no quitting.
"Her future's unlimited," Aimee's father, Andy Copeland, said. "I think of just unbridled, unlimited potential. I think there's so much that she can accomplish, and I think that there's very little that can get in her way."