Copeland, a 24-year-old UWG graduate psychology student, contracted necrotizing fasciitis on May 1 when she cut her left leg in a fall from a homemade zipline into the Little Tallapoosa River near Carrollton.
Doctors had to amputate both of Copeland’s hands, her left leg and her right foot to save her life. She was hospitalized for nearly four months, first at Doctor’s Hospital in August and then in rehabilitation at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
Copeland was on campus as part of the university’s Disabilities Awareness Day. The student spoke as part of a panel on being young and “differently abled.”
The graduate student spoke fondly of her university, where she is still planning on attaining her master’s degree.
“On our way here, as we came down Bankhead Highway, a rush of memories came over me,” Copeland said. “I was saying, ‘Oh, I used to work there, I used to eat there.’ I’m so glad to be back.”
Copeland said she has been working on background research for her thesis, which is all that remains for her to get her master’s. Since the accident, Copeland has tweaked her thesis’ focus and said it will now be on wildlife therapy for amputees. She plans on starting her field research by visiting different parks and camps in November.
Finding creative ways to do everyday tasks like making the bed and cooking scrambled eggs has been the biggest hurdle Copeland has had to overcome, she said.
“Everything is a little harder,” Copeland said. “You have to think outside of the box, which can be entertaining.”
Copeland related her struggles with using her touch-screen cell phone, including using the tip of her nose and even her tongue to type on her phone.
“I just had to realize that, if I drop something and there’s no one around — I guess I’m not using that thing anymore,” she said. “I’m not going to take it too seriously and throw a fit just because something didn’t go my way.”
Hannah Perkins, a deaf student who is president of the school’s Achievers, a student organization that promotes awareness and advocacy for students with disabilities, helped coordinate the daylong event with her organization.
Events and activities included a wheelchair rally, adaptive games and sports for able-bodied students to experience and simulation experiences that showed students what it would be like to live with a disability.
Perkins was one of three students with disabilities who joined Copeland on the panel. Also speaking were Danielle Vincent, a student who suffered a brain injury in 2006 during a car accident, and Justin Wilson, a UWG graduate born with muscular dystrophy who now works with an advocacy group in Atlanta.
“I’ve always been disabled,” Wilson said. “It’s my normal life. I don’t let that disability limit me.”
The panelists spoke on several misperceptions made by able-bodied people.
“I’ve had people who didn’t want to ask how my accident happened because they thought it would offend me,” Copeland said. “But it doesn’t offend me. I know it’s what people are thinking about. It’s OK to say, ‘What happened to your leg?’”
Copeland said that while living as a quad-amputee gets easier every day, she still finds new challenges daily.
“It’s had to wrap your brain around,” she said. “I think about what I could do six months ago before this happened, and it’s pretty different. It’s taken a lot of getting used to.”
She said she appreciates all the support she’s gotten from people she’s never even met.
“I’ve gotten so many things, so many letters and prayers and donations,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without all that support. People have done so much for me, and I don’t feel like I’ve done anything.”
One sign that Copeland thinks is significant in showing how well-adjusted she is now to her condition is how she sees herself in her dreams.
“Now, when I dream at night, I see myself as an amputee,” she said. “That’s a huge step in getting used to it, where you can see yourself in dreams with your disability.”