SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico– Four years after a life-threatening bout with flesh-eating bacteria that resulted in the loss of both hands, one leg and her remaining foot, Aimee Copeland is comfortable in her new body. On Monday, Copeland posted a picture to Facebook of her vacation in San Juan, Puerto Rico, smiling on the beach, scars and all.
Along with the photo, Copeland posted, “It has taken me a long time to become comfortable with and accept my new body/ We are ALL made with imperfections and there is so much beauty in our flaws. The scars and skin grafting build character! It’s not about what you have — what you do with what you have is what really counts.”
Copeland’s ordeal began in May 2012, when the then-24-year-old was riding a makeshift zip line across the Little Tallapoosa River about 50 miles west of Atlanta. The line snapped, and she fell and got a gash in her calf that took 22 staples to close.
Three days later, still in pain, she went to an emergency room. Doctors eventually determined that she had necrotizing fasciitis caused by the flesh-devouring bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila. Aimee was in multiple organ failure. A respirator had to breathe for her. Her kidneys didn’t work, and she was on full-time dialysis. Her heart barely beat: Her ejection fraction, a measure of the heart’s ability to pump blood, was 10%, when the normal rate is 55% to 75%.
A number of bacteria that are common in the environment can lead to the disease but rarely cause serious infections. When it gets into the bloodstream — such as through a cut — doctors typically move aggressively to excise even healthy tissue near the infection site in hopes of ensuring none of the dangerous bacteria remain.
The disease attacks and destroys healthy tissue and is fatal about 20% of the time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to her Facebook page, Copeland is now dedicated to being an advocate for people with disabilities.