Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Aimee Copeland gets out of her wheelchair to relax on the couch in the sunroom of her family's home in Snellville. Copeland, a South Gwinnett grad, contracted a flesh-eating bacteria that claimed her left leg, right foot and both hands last year.
PHOTOS & AUDIO: A visit with Aimee
An audio slide show during a recent visit with Aimee Copeland, just one year after her incident.
SNELLVILLE -- As Aimee Copeland progresses each day, things like eating a potato chip are exciting.
That's what Copeland did on Monday, one of the first things she handled with a new bionic right hand she received in Ohio from a company called Touch Bionics.
As the summer approaches for the 25-year-old Snellville resident, big plans are in store. Along with the new hands, Copeland may get a service dog in June, conduct research to finish a graduate degree in July, start school for another graduate degree in August and possibly receive a prosthetic left leg.
"It's like bam, bam, bam, a really big summer," Copeland told the Daily Post.
Her father, Andy, said each day brings a new step of progress, and each phase brings them one step closer to her being back to 100 percent wellness.
"She's just really excited right now about everything," Andy said. "She's staying pretty busy."
One important date for her family is May 20, the one-year mark from when doctors removed a breathing apparatus after she contracted a rare bacteria following a May 1 homemade zipline incident that split her left leg open on a rock. Copeland spent more than 50 days in rehab after the bacteria claimed her left leg, right foot and both hands.
For weeks, Copeland's life was in danger as organs shut down and circulation struggled, but she left Doctors Hospitals on July 2. From Augusta, she went to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta and was released on Aug. 22.
None of those dates matter much to Copeland, who said May 20 is important mainly to her parents and the rest of the family.
"I'm more about celebrating the everyday beautiful things that are happening because I'm alive, than focus on this terrible event that happened (about) a year ago," Copeland said.
One of those beautiful things is collecting research of kids with amputees at the Manuela Outdoor Center in North Carolina. Copeland is collecting data there to finish a master's degree in humanistic psychology from the University of West Georgia.
"The study is trying to isolate the variable of healing through nature at this outdoor camp for amputees," she said. "I'm going to look at several different measures and see if the children experience the wilderness effect."
In August, Copeland hopes to start a primarily online master's degree in social work from Valdosta State University.
During her recovery in the last year, Copeland and her family received ongoing support from the community. One memorable event was "Aimee's Weekend," a series of outdoor concert and other activites that raised $19,000 that was donated to the family in July.
In August, Pulte Homes and several other vendors donated a 2,000-square-foot, $200,000 addition to her parents home that's known as "Aimee's Wing."
Copeland has also taken several public speaking requests, including a Salvation Army luncheon, a dinner put on by the nonprofit Wellspring Living, the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation Cornerstone Society Gala and on the Katie Couric television program.
She was also a featured guest recently at a Run, Walk 'n' Roll race for Friends of Disabled Adults and Children at Stone Mountain Park. FODAC was the organization that loaned Copeland a wheelchair while she waited for the one she uses now to be made.
Her father, who helps manage those appearances, said there have been countless requests for middle school graduations.
"I'd like for her to speak in front of as many people as possible to leverage her time," Andy said.
Many people have said she is an inspiration personally or for their own children, and Copeland has been mentioned as a point of pride for Snellville residents. Copeland said she offers her time as a way to say thank you.
"I wouldn't be where I am, and I wouldn't have been where I was when I got out of the hospital, without so much community support," she said. "So this is my way of giving back to the community who helped me get where I am. Sort of paying it forward."
Along with her new hand, Copeland hopes to get a prosthetic left leg later this year, but first must overcome either an insurance cap or the state legislature. Copeland and her father said the state health plan pays $50,000 per year, but the leg costs $57,000, and she's trying to get a replacement right leg, which costs about $10,000. The insurance company has told the Copelands to contact a state representative to change the cap.
"It's going to take a little convincing," she said. "But I have a pretty good argument."
Recently, Copeland walked on both legs and said it was, "amazing how effortless it was, just to stand, it felt so good and freeing, just amazing not to rely on a big, clunky wheelchair."
All these improvements have allowed Copeland to reach goals she set months ago.
"I think over the next three or four months, it's going to be full on," she said. "I'm really excited because I've tried to be patient, and it's really hard."
In the coming months, Copeland will be featured on programming on NBC and Headline News. Crews from the "Today Show" and HLN have been in Ohio this week, and a HLN piece featuring Copeland is scheduled to air in September, Andy said.
About three weeks ago, Andy sent the first chapter of a book he wrote to a literary agent, although he hasn't yet heard back.
"The book is written more for parents of children," he said. "From a Dad's perspective of what her mother and I experienced. It's going to be from more of an inspirational-type standpoint."
For Copeland, she has experienced new challenges in the last year, from finding a set of stairs to her car not cooperating. She said the advice she has passed along to millions of people is to look at life as a game, because you never know how you will react to unexpected or crazy things that happen.
"You have to try really hard and overcome the obstacles, and that's how you get to the next level of the game," she said. "You can't give up, or else it will be game over, and this is what we're here to do. Along that way, if you can help other people get to the next level by inspiring them, giving them advice, it's sort of like a whole team sort of thing. That's how I looked at the world, some people may think it's silly, but it's kind of worked for me and kept me going."
MOBILE USERS: Click here to watch the audio slide show.