What Aimee Copeland Has Gained Since Losing Limbs

What Aimee Copeland has accomplished since leaving hospital one year ago.

ByABC News
July 2, 2013, 5:12 PM

July 3, 2013— -- About a year ago, Aimee Copeland was leaving the hospital after losing her hands, feet and entire right leg to flesh-eating bacteria.

She never could have guessed what she would gain.

"This time last year, I was hardly even coherent. I didn't realize what was going on," she told ABCNews.com. "At that time, I didn't even realize what an impact my story was going to have or that all of this would unfold the way it did."

Now, the 25-year-old is looking forward to receiving her master's degree in psychology on July 27 and starting class for her second master's degree in social work a few weeks later. She'll take classes online and travel to southern Georgia once a month with her service labradoodle, Belle, whom she met last weekend.

Read about Copeland's new canine helper.

She also works with three organizations: Paws of Mind, which hopes to provide free service dogs to 3,000 people a year; Wellspring Living, which aims to combat child sexual exploitation and abuse; and Friends of Disabled Adults and Children, which provides free equipment for people with disabilities.

Oh, and she wants to get more involved in the environmental movement.

"In compassion for others, we find so much healing," she said. "Not only to help other people, but to find my own healing."

Copeland cut open her right leg falling from a zip line near the Tallapoosa River in Georgia in April 2012, allowing a deadly bacterium to enter her body. She said she sensed something wasn't quite right days after receiving 22 stitches to close the wound on her calf because it hurt up to her thigh.

The bacteria advanced undetected until her leg turned "a dark purple color," Copeland said on the set of ABC's "Katie" talk show in September.

"I wasn't able to walk," she told show host Katie Couric. "I wasn't able to speak. The only thing I was able to babble was, 'I think I'm dying.'"

After being in and out of the emergency room with the painful wound that wouldn't heal, doctors realized Copeland had necrotizing fasciitis and amputated her leg from the hip.

Later, when her hands turned black, doctors amputated them, too.

Copeland told ABCNews.com she figures there are two ways to look at life: She can either think of the bad things that happened to her as random and feel sorry for herself, or she can find meaning in her suffering and use it.

Soon after meeting Crystal Callahan, who trained Copeland's service dog, Belle, Copeland offered to help in any way she could.

"I just threw it on the table: 'If you ever need help with promoting what you're doing, raising awareness, you can definitely count on me to do that,'" Copeland said. "She called me back the next day with huge ideas. I couldn't be happier about that."

In five years, she hopes to be logging hours as a social worker. In 10 years, she wants to have her own private practice.

"Everything that's happened to me in my entire life has led up to this," she said. "It makes my suffering worthwhile to know I might help other people experiencing the same suffering."

Although she moves more easily than she did when America "met" her for the first time on Couric's talk show in September, Copeland isn't pain-free. Nerve trauma that comes with being an amputee causes her to have a constant dull pain in all of her extremities. That causes her to have a higher threshold for pain.

Read about Copeland's new bionic hands.

The near-death experience has changed her for the better, Copeland said. She no longer fears death or feels pressured to prove herself to other people. In a way, she said, the accident has allowed her to reinvent herself as part of her "awakening."

"There's a huge process of grief and getting over things, washing away the old you and embracing the new," Copeland said. "The process is not one that comes instantly. It's one I've had to work through."