(NEW YORK) — Aimee Copeland, the young woman who lost her hands, both feet and her entire right leg to flesh-eating bacteria last spring, made her public debut Tuesday by walking — painstakingly — onto the set of Katie Couric’s new show, where she was received with a standing ovation.
Copeland beamed as she struggled slowly towards Couric with the aid of a prosthetic foot and a new walker, pushing the walker forward and then hopping a step, bringing Couric near tears.
Despite her ordeal, Copeland quickly rejected a question from Couric, who asked whether she ever felt like just dying.
“I love life. It’s a beautiful thing … even more so now,” she replied.
“Senses are so deepened,” she said. “Everything smells better. Everything is more vibrant, more beautiful.”
Copeland, 24, cut open her right leg falling from a zip line near the Tallapoosa River nearly four months ago, 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 “my entire leg was a dark purple color,” Copeland said. “I wasn’t able to walk. 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 she had necrotizing fasciitis and amputated her leg from the hip.
Later, when her hands turned black, doctors amputated them too.
“I think the most extreme moment was when my dad lifted up my hands for me to see, and my fingers were black and my hands were a deep, blood red,” she said. “I said, ‘Let’s do this.’ I mean, what else are you going to do? Live with some dead hands?”
Copeland, however, was bubbly as she talked about her future, her boyfriend and her upcoming thesis on wilderness therapy for amputees, waving what she refers to as her “nubs” as she spoke enthusiastically.
Copeland returned to her Snellville, Ga., home a few weeks ago after a grueling 51-day rehabilitation program at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. She told Couric she can do 300 sit-ups at a time now.
She said she doesn’t like to be called “disabled,” and that she plans to use her “nubs” instead of adaptive equipment because she’s learned to do so much with what she has left. During the show, Couric showed a video of Copeland texting with her nose and brushing her teeth with the brush wrapped to her arm.
She would rather not use hooks or leg prosthetics when she’s able to drive again in a few weeks, Copeland said, adding that prosthetics on pedals are akin to trying to drive a car in a “giant pair of heels.”
One of her biggest pleasures she said was standing up after being bedridden for so long.
“You take it for granted just to look people in the eyes,” she said. She said that her boyfriend cried the first time he saw her stand and said, “I’ve missed you up here.”
She said what she has eclipses what she lost last spring.
“There’s a lot I don’t have that other people have, but there’s a lot I have that other people don’t have,” she told Couric.
Copeland’s family joined her on the stage later in the show to talk about her strength and positive attitude.
Copeland, who is getting her master’s degree in psychology, said many think they can’t kayak or hike, but that’s not the case, and she wants to show them.
“I want to spread that knowledge to other amputees and help people get back in the woods, get back in the wilderness, into that place that can be so healing,” she said.
Although Couric said she tells people her show is not about giving away cars, she said she would make an exception.
Copeland mouthed “oh my gosh” as Couric explained that Chevrolet dealer Steve Rayman, whose father-in-law recently became an amputee, gave Copeland a retrofitted van complete with a ribbon on top. The dealer said he just wanted Copeland to be a normal “24-year-old kid,” adding, “she’s going to be incredible.”
“But she’s not going to speed,” Couric chimed in.
“Never,” Copeland said, laughing.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio