Andy Copeland would seem to have every right to despair. Instead, he's filled with hope.
Despite the odds, his 24-year-old daughter, Aimee, is alive — and getting better — regardless of the horrific and often-fatal disease afflicting her.
On May 1, Aimee was injured in a homemade zip-line accident, where she fell into a creek and cut her leg severely. In the process, she picked up a typically fatal bacterium from the water that eats away the skin. The infection caused a condition called "necrotizing fasciitis," more widely known as "flesh-eating disease."
As a result, Aimee has since lost her left leg, her right foot, and both hands.
"Her body is as strong as her spirit right now," Copeland said Monday at a blood drive in his daughter's honor at the University of South Carolina.
The South Carolina drive is part of "Border Bash," a blood drive competition between the University of South Carolina, where Copeland graduated in 1983, and the University of Georgia, where Aimee attended school as an undergraduate.
Now, as she lays in an Augusta, Ga., hospital bed, Aimee is awaiting skin-graft surgery to alleviate the disease's skin-destroying effects, which have eaten away her skin down to the muscle layer on a good portion of her left side and buttocks, as well as her midriff down to her pelvic region, her father said.
"I just saw it for the first time yesterday, and it looks bad," he said.
However, Copeland said he believes the worst of Aimee's most severe medical problems have passed. The young woman faced major organ failure, he said, but that problem appears to be over, he said.
Recovery — and a full life — now seem imminently possible.
"It's just amazing to talk with her," he said. "The only thing she has right now is phantom pain [in her lost limbs], and it has been fairly brutal…. And while I've avoided using the term, 'she's out of the woods,' I think she's out of the woods."
The experience for Copeland has been traumatic, but also enlightening. He said he could have shut down and withered, but instead he has tried to remain strong, like his daughter — and to make something positive out of the experience.
Blood drives such as the one at USC are a major part of that, he said. It not only honors his daughter, but it also helps others, he said.
And he could have been silent, too. Instead, he said, he chose to talk openly about his daughter, drawing attention nationally and globally, through a blog he set up to publicize his daughter's plight.
The T-shirt he wears tells part of the story. It says, "Let's Do This." It has become a mantra. He said it was the phrase his daughter uttered when she learned she needed to have her hands amputated to save her life.
"You really only have two choices," he said. "You could react by withdrawing within a cocoon, and being silent and not saying anything, or you can be vocal about it."
What started out as a call for prayers has since morphed into something bigger. Not just prayers, and blood drives, but unadulterated love from people not only across the region, but also nationally and globally.
"We realized this situation is much bigger than us," he said. "What we've seen is the outpouring of love and support and inspiration of people who are drawn to the story. I believed that has changed [my family]. It's made us realize what a blessed word we live in … it has made us realize how much love and compassion people have.
"I've left behind whatever cynicism I had," he added, "because I've seen what the world really is, and it's nothing to be cynical about. It's phenomenal."
Editor's Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Spring Valley Patch in South Carolina.
In addition to more awareness events in South Carolina and beyond, there will be a special fundraising event on June 15 and 16 for Aimee Copeland and her family in Snellville, Ga. According to Snellville's Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts Aimee's father, Andy Copeland, is expected to attend. Loganville singer Jordan Rager is one of the concert performers.