In May of 2012 Aimee Copeland was 24-years-old, a part-time waitress The Sunnyside Café in Carrollton, Georgia and a University of Georgia student studying for her masters degree in psychology. It was a sunny afternoon when she and a group of her friends decided to go swimming in a local river, where they discovered an old, homemade zip-line. On Copeland’s second go, the wire snapped. She fell six feet, gashing open her leg on the rocks below.
At the hospital, Copeland was patched up 22 surgical staples and sent home, but things were far from over. “Something just didn’t feel right in my leg,” Copeland, now 28, said in an interview with People. Three days after the accident she woke up with blood blisters and unable to speak. During the night, her left leg had begun to rot.
Copeland was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis—a rare flesh-eating bacteria. In order to save her life doctors had to amputate all four of her limbs—both arms below the elbow, her right leg below the knee, her left leg almost to her hip, and part of her abdomen.
Recovery was grueling, not only physically, but emotionally as well. One thing that was difficult to accept was her appearance. “I was super spoiled before. I relied on being charming and attractive to get what I wanted,” Copeland told Emory Medicine magazine. “Now, I’m more mentally focused. I have to be more clever, to use my intellect,” she says. “But my experiences have also bred compassion. When you lose a large part of your body, you have to go deeper.”
On Monday, Copeland posted a picture to her Facebook of her vacation in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Recently, Copeland finished her second master’s degree in social work. She plans to open up a non-profit holistic community center for people with disabilities.
“My self-confidence has never been higher,” she said. “I’ve let go of the girl I was before. I’ve completely embraced who I am.”