Aimee Copeland, the 24-year-old Georgia woman who contracted flesh-eating bacteria after a zip line accident, was released from the hospital today, nearly two months after doctors were forced to amputate her left leg, right foot and both of her hands.
Despite the well-publicized injuries of Copeland and others, zip lines are becoming more popular. For many, Copeland's experience is simply an extreme example of what can happen when the sport goes wrong. A report from the Los Angeles Times finds that no government agency tracks zip line injury rates, but the industry is expanding at a dramatic rate. According to the Times, the number of zip line facilities in the United States has increased from 10 in 2001 to 200 or so today. Another report from the Ventura County Star put that number at closer to 250, 90 of which have been built in the past 18 months. The zip line industry says injuries are these commercial sites are rare, but new zip lines are under construction in California, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, where eight new zip lines just opened at the Mount Sunapee ski resort.
Two associations are in the process of drafting separate safety standards for zip lines. ASTM, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, already has standards in place for helmets and other products and expects to have its zip line standards drafted in one to two years. The Association for Challenge Course Technology expects to release the eighth version of its safety standards later this year.
There are no available statistics on the use of homemade zip lines, such as the one that injured Copeland. Kits are available online for as little as $200.
Copeland fell into the Tallapoosa River on May 1 after a homemade zip line broke. She suffered a deep gash in her leg which became infected with the bacteria Aeromonas hydrophila, which recent tests showed are at "normal" levels in the river. Copeland went to the hospital several times complaining of pain before she was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis. By that point, it had spread throughout her body and she came close to death several times.
Copeland's father, Andy, called her a "very determined young lady," and says she fought for her survival. She even developed friendships with the hospital staff that saved her life. "She hated to see a lot of people she loves, to say goodbye," Andy Copeland told the Associated Press as his daughter was preparing to be discharged from Doctors Hospital in Augusta. "The sweet [part] is that she is moving on to the next phase."
Aimee Copeland will now learn to get around in a wheelchair, and eventually will begin therapy to be fitted with prosthetic limbs. She also plans to continue her studies and complete her graduate theses in time for graduation from the University of West Georgia this December. "Aimee is very excited, like a kid going off to college," her father told CNN, "but she also realizes that rehab will be arduous. But she says she will handle it."
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