A blood drive and several events have been scheduled to raise money for Copeland’s treatment and rehabilitation and to increase awareness of the need for blood donations.
Copeland, 24, a Gwinnett County resident and graduate psychology student, was showing signs of improvement Thursday afternoon in an Augusta hospital. She was injured May 1 in a zip line accident near Carrollton.
She has been hospitalized since last Friday at the JMS Burn Center in Augusta. The rapidly spreading infection resulted in her leg being amputated to the hip and complications that earlier this week led doctors to say her chances of survival were “slim to none.”
In a website posting about 1 p.m. Thursday, her father, Andy Copeland, said, “Today Aimee is very responsive and coherent. She is responding to specific commands and even selected the music she wanted to listen to. The neurologist says that there is no indication of any brain damage. The cardiopulmonologist says that her lungs are slowly healing. Unfortunately, her blood vessels in her hands and in her remaining foot have died, and thus they will have to be amputated, too.”
A UWG student website, http://uwgpsychology.org/2012/aimee-copeland, has been relaying messages from her father and updating the information at regular intervals.
Ken Lewis, a graduate research assistant and psychology doctoral student who worked with Copeland, started putting information on the student site and said the response soon crashed the server.
“News about Aimee started spreading through church and prayer groups Tuesday,” Lewis said. “We had over 120,000 hits on the site that day. Because it was a simple student site, the hosting company took it offline. He said the shared server couldn’t handle that amount of traffic.”
Lewis said he was told he would have to get his own high-level enterprise server, which costs about $4,000 per year, to carry the heavy traffic load. Lewis contacted two businesses he knew, Sodimate, a bulk handling system, and the Chicago Midway Airport Hotel Carlton Inn, and they agreed to pay the costs.
The UWG Psychology Department has organized a blood drive on Tuesday, from 2-7 p.m., in the UWG gym. The student website is also encouraging people who live in the Augusta area to donate blood at the burn center where Copeland is a patient.
“Any blood donated here will be credited to Aimee,” Lewis said. “It doesn’t matter what blood type you are. Aimee’s father said if there’s one message he can send, it’s to donate blood. Blood is life and people need it.”
A fund has been established to collect money for Copeland’s hospitalization and rehabilitation. People can donate to “Aimee’s Fund,” c/o United Community Bank, 119 Maple St., Carrollton, GA 30117. Or, they can go to the online site and use PayPal to donate, Lewis said.
Gary Duke, who owns Sunnyside Cafe in Carrollton, where Copeland worked, has a collection jar in his restaurant.
“Customers are being very generous and every day, we empty the jar and take it to the Aimee Fund at the bank,” Duke said.
Duke has organized an 8 p.m., May 18, benefit concert at Moonshadow Music Hall, adjacent to his restaurant, featuring Americana Express, a gospel-bluegrass band.
“Another concert or two are being planned, but we don’t have the dates set right now,” he said. “Other businesses are also contacting me and asking what they can do.”
Lewis said he and some other students are also using the website to campaign against what he called “homemade ziplines.” Lewis said having the online site to relay information about Copeland has brought many people together as a community.
“We’ve had hundreds of thousands of hits from all over the world,” he said. “We’re getting comments form every continent. Her story has been covered in an Australian newspaper, in England, in a Yahoo article and on a CNN newscast.
“Her family needs all the support they can get,” Lewis said. “We need to come together as a community.”
About 30 fellow UWG students and friends gathered at 5:15 p.m. Thursday for a prayer vigil in the Melson Hall lobby, the building where psychology department offices are located and where Copeland has worked as a graduate assistant.
“Aimee is such an authentic, genuine and carefree person,” said Shea Hudson, a friend and fellow grad student. “She can walk into a room and brighten it up by who she is. She doesn’t have to try. It’s amazing that this outpouring of prayer and love started with a small circle and now has 20-some thousand on Facebook. It’s just a testament of who Aimee is as a person.”
“We send Aimee and her family our very best wishes for her recovery and ask the University of West Georgia family to keep her in their thoughts and prayers as she continues her fight,” UWG President Dr. Beheruz N. Sethna said in a prepared statement Thursday afternoon.
According to Duke, Copeland was with two fellow Sunnyside workers, zip lining across the Little Tallapoosa River on Tuesday, May 1. She fell on rocks in the river, cutting a deep gash in her leg. She was treated at the Tanner Medical Center emergency room, where the wound was closed with 22 staples and she was released.
Over the next few days, she experienced severe pain and returned to the emergency room, where she was given pain medication and antibiotics.
By Friday, she was pale and weak and a friend took her to the hospital. An ER physician diagnosed her with necrotizing fasciitis, a bacterial infection, which had spread up her leg and into her abdomen. She was flown to the burn center in Augusta, where they have advanced equipment to treat infections. Her leg had to be amputated at the hip and tissue removed from her abdomen.
Her progress has been up and down over the past few days, but her parents and friends remain confident in her recovery.