Aimee Copeland greeted America for the first time Tuesday, standing tall.
Months after the deadly infection that threatened her life and forced multiple amputations, the 24-year-old Snellville woman appeared on Katie Couric’s new talk show, “Katie.” She moved slowly but surely on a prosthetic foot, assisted by a walker, as Couric nodded encouragement and blinked back tears.
“It felt pretty good,” Copeland said as she settled in. “You take for granted just looking people in the eye.”
Copeland freely discussed the rigors of rehab and the challenge of relearning simple skills like brushing her teeth. She laughed and smiled throughout the visit and sang along to the Bob Marley song “Is This Love” that played during a commercial break. Not once did her sunny personality dim.
“I love life,” she said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
In interviews with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 following the television appearance — Couric’s show airs daily at 3 p.m. — Copeland talked about regaining her independence. While she’d love to eventually go camping or on a cruise, she’ll soon be driving again, thanks to the surprise donation of a vehicle from metro Atlanta car dealer Steve Rayman. She’ll be able to select a vehicle from inventory and have it retrofitted to suit her needs.
“I just want her to be a 24-year-old kid like any 24-year-old kid,” Rayman said. “She’s been an inspiration.”
The bubbly Copeland was momentarily speechless (not even her parents, who accompanied her, knew about the gift), then hugged her benefactor.
“To be able to get up and do what I want to do, it’s going to be really incredible,” Copeland said. “I just hope to live a normal life. I want to be completely independent.”
After a May zip-line accident introduced a rare, flesh-decaying bacteria into her system, surgeons had to amputate her left leg, right foot and both hands to try to save her life. In asking for her consent, her father Andy lifted Copeland’s hands — useless by then — so that she could see them and understand how dire her situation was.
“It wasn’t until my dad showed me my hands — my fingers were black, my hands were blood-red — that I realized things were going to be different,” said Copeland, who mercifully has few memories of that time. “I wasn’t in a whole lot of pain. I think my mind protected me by sort of going offline.”
Intense physical therapy at Atlanta’s Shepherd Center has her feeling more confident. She proudly noted that she can do 300 abdominal crunches; core strength helps her mobility. She also said that her senses seem more acute.
“The first time I noticed it, I was up on the parking deck at Shepherd,” she said. “Looking up at the sky, the colors were so vivid and so beautiful. It was like I had never seen the sky.”
Copeland returned home last month to a new two-story wing donated by builder Pulte Homes, built with her needs in mind. The University of West Georgia graduate student plans to get cracking soon on her master’s degree thesis (the “Katie” segment showed her using her computer with voice commands and a stylus and texting with her nose). Her thesis topic is “Wilderness Therapy for Amputees.”
“Healing often happens in nature,” Copeland said. She wants to work with other amputees, including veterans, and looks upon her ordeal as a sort of preparation.
“I’ve been really blessed to see life through a different perspective,” she said. “In the end I’ll be able to help a lot of people through what’s happened to me. Before, I wanted to help people. Now I know I can help people.”
Copeland credits a naturally positive disposition and her spirituality with helping her remain upbeat.
“On the inside, I’m still the same person. Instead of saying I’m disabled, I say I have different abilities,” she said. “Why did this happen to me? This happened to me because I could handle it.”