After a zip-lining accident in 2012, I was hospitalized and diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis – a flesh-eating, bacterial infection. While the doctors worked hard to save my life, they had to amputate both of my hands, my right foot and my entire left leg. I was 24 years old and grateful that I survived – but the road to recovery that lay before me felt overwhelming.
Before the infection, I was extremely active. You could often find me rock climbing, backpacking and trail running. So I quickly became frustrated with what seemed to be my new situation – just sitting in a wheelchair. A huge part of who I was no longer seemed accessible to me. And I wasn’t alone. People who use wheelchairs are often separated from the outdoors due to mobility and accessibility issues.
Being in a wheelchair has shifted my perspective, as I now fully realize the daily challenges faced by people with disabilities. And throughout my recovery, it became evident that physical barriers are not the only obstacles these individuals must overcome. People with auditory, visual, cognitive and behavioral impairments also have unique mental health needs.
Since the accident, I have relearned how to connect with nature. I bike, swim, kayak and lay in the grass – just like I used to. Reconnecting with the outdoors has been an essential component to my physical, mental and spiritual recovery. And developing a safe space that promotes healing, while providing accessible outdoor environments, has become my passion and my goal. To do this, I created the Aimee Copeland Foundation, which will raise funds to build and run an inclusive wellness park and holistic therapy center – right here in metro Atlanta.
The center will provide accessible outdoor opportunities and other adaptive recreation for visitors of all abilities, including gardening, yoga, cooking and fitness classes. Therapeutic services will include individual and group psychotherapy, retreats and workshops. And, as a licensed master of social work, and a practicing mental health counselor, I will provide counseling to individuals with physical, mental and developmental disabilities – for little to no cost.
What started as an idea I dreamed up in a hospital bed, has grown by leaps and bounds – and I can’t thank you enough. The support I’ve received from day one – all the encouragement, the prayers, the letters – have given me the strength to launch the Aimee Copeland Foundation, and begin raising funds for our wellness center. And, this isn’t my center, or even my dream anymore. ACF is a community collaboration, fueled by our shared determination to build a place of healing and growth for all.