Copeland, who survived a near fatal case of a flesh-eating bacteria in 2012, said now she spends that time helping others.
“It’s not about what you have. It’s about what you do with what you have that’s important,” Copeland told the about 100 people gathered at the Cobb Executive Women’s meeting on Tuesday.
The 26-year-old developed Necrotizing fasciitis after cutting her leg when she fell from a homemade zip line over Little Tallapoosa River in west Georgia.
Copeland said she now lives with her parents in Snellville, but she doesn’t need help completing daily tasks. She travels in a wheelchair and knows how to take a shower and put her hair up in a ponytail by herself. Copeland said she uses a device made for people who have had one arm amputated that holds her hair up for her while she puts the rubber band on.
The accident has put her life in perspective and she hopes to impart her faith and optimism to others.
“I lived to see another day,” Copeland said. “How is that not miraculous?”
Copeland said the accident happened May 1, 2012, after she and a friend found a homemade zip line along the river in Carrollton and decided to give it a try. While she was in the air, the line snapped and she fell on rocks with a “thud,” she said.
Copeland said her calf was cut “deeper than I’ve ever seen” and she was rushed to the hospital.
After a two-week blackout, the next thing she remembered was waking up to the news that she had been infected with a flesh-eating bacteria. Copeland remembers making the decision to allow doctors to amputate her hands when they became black and curled from the bacteria killing her flesh.
After two months in Doctors Hospital of Augusta, Copeland said she now looks at life as a challenge. She said her recovery is a daily battle.
“It’s been two years, but it feels like a lifetime,” she said.
Copeland is able to live a normal life that includes going back to college. She has a master’s in psychology from the University of West Georgia, and is enrolled in Valdosta State University working on a master’s in social work.
Beth Herman, who chairs the Cobb Executive Women’s steering committee, said she invited Copeland to speak because she wanted to help local women put their lives in perspective.
“We wanted to do more community-based events to involve everyone from the community, and this is one of them,” Herman said. “(Copeland) just lifts you up out of the room.”
Copeland is on the board of directors for Friends of Disabled Adults and Children, a “Goodwill for disabled people,” she said, that provides used wheelchairs to those who need them.
Copeland said she gets a selfish joy out of helping others.
She said exchanging love and support with other disabled people has helped her heal.
“They had it right in the ’60s. Love really is all you need,” she said. “It amazed me how much the community helps, because there are so many terrible things that happen in the world, but they helped so much, and it just reminds me of the humanity in the world.”
Nurdan Cornelius, a consumer marketing manager with Cobb EMC, said she attended the event because she has two children in their twenties. Cornelius said, as a mother, she connected with Copeland’s story.
“I’m dying to hear her story. I already know it, but I want to hear her tell it,” Cornelius said.
Pam Brems, the director of the Mansour Center, said what makes Copeland’s story special is her attitude about life.
“She exudes joy and optimism and a can-do spirit,” Brems said. “It puts all those daily challenges in perspective.”
Copeland said her experience forced her to look at herself differently and value her accomplishments rather than her looks.
“Before this, I was just a normal 24-year-old party girl, and now, I’m in a wheelchair,” she said. “It changes the way you do everything. I have this new body now.”
The experiences she has been through have given her life meaning, Copeland said. She added there are times when she feels her entire life was building up to her accident.
“Just because it doesn’t work out the way we planned, it doesn’t mean it’s not the plan,” she said.
Copeland said she doesn’t dwell on the past. She said the accident defines her life, but it doesn’t stop her.
“I’m very motivated. I love walking, and I think the more I do it, I’ll toughen up. This morning before I came here, I walked a mile-and-a-half at the park on my prosthetic legs,” she said. “It took me about an hour-and-a-half, but I did it. I do all sorts of wonderful things like that every day.”