Last year Aimee Copeland was ziplining across the Little Tallapoosa River in Georgia, when her homemade line broke and she sliced open her leg, requiring 22 stitches to close. And then the nightmare began.
Her accident quickly turned into a debilitating case of necrotizing fasciitis — flesh-eating bacteria. Despite heavy odds, including multiple amputations and a temporary inability to remember what had happened to her, the 24-year-old graduate student eventually overcame her illness, but lost her hands, a leg, and a foot in the process.
Necrotizing fasciitis is a rare illness, affecting about 750 people a year, and Copeland's strain was even rarer. The perky masters student quickly drew national attention, also due in part to her upbeat attitude. A student of holistic pain management techniques, Copeland regularly refused morphine during the amputation and skin graft procedures that were necessary to save her life, saying the pain medications went against her convictions.
Now, Copeland has regained much of her autonomy thanks to a pair of bionic hands. The "i-limb ultra revolution" hands can cost as much as $120,000 a hand, and can be remotely set by an iPad application.
Copeland's new hands allow her to pick up small items and brush her own hair, but she says that she is most excited about regaining the ability to cook vegetarian meals. Before the hands, Copeland was only able to prepare microwavable foods.
"It just mimics so well a natural hand that it really just reminds me of before the accident, how I would have done things," Copeland told reporters. "I never thought I would actually be able to hold a knife and cut something. That's just incredible."
Copeland also hopes to receive a prosthetic leg later this year. She plans to work with amputee children in a wilderness camp this summer.