Flesh-Eating Bacteria Survivor Aimee Copeland on Finding Love After Tragedy: 'He Told Me That My Body Was Perfect'
"It was amazing to see how accepted I was," Aimee Copeland tells PEOPLE
When Aimee Copeland lost all four of her limbs to a flesh-eating bacteria she contracted in 2012 after a zip-lining accident, she also lost her self-esteem.
As she recovered from her amputations, Aimee says her boyfriend of three years was “extremely supportive.” But as time went on, aspects of their relationship began to change, and “a large part of that was intimacy,” she says.
Aimee began to feel that her boyfriend wasn’t attracted to her anymore. And after trying to make it work, they ultimately broke up in December 2014.
“I felt like if the person I thought was the love of my life couldn’t accept my body than no one ever would,” Aimee, 28, tells PEOPLE. “That to me was a million times harder than losing any of my body parts.”
But that all changed in 2015 when a good friend suggested she try online dating.
“I really put myself out there,” she says. “And then I saw this guy and thought he was really hot, but that he’d never be into me.”
Aimee started talking to Stephen Mercier, a 29-year-old high school teacher from Fayetteville, Georgia, after they were matched through OkCupid. For about a-week-and-half, they sent each other messages so long they “were like novels,” she says. “We knew everything about each other.”
They not only realized they both went to The University of West Georgia and had 40 mutual friends, but that they had also been to the same party years ago.
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One of their mutual friends happened to be Aimee’s best friend’s fiancé. She immediately reached out and “asked him to give me the dirt” on Stephen, she says.
The pair began dating and have now been together for over a year.
“I remember one night we were hanging out and he told me that he thought my body was perfect and that really meant a lot to me,” she says. “I never thought someone would ever feel that way about me after everything my body had been through.”
WATCH: Inside People’s Exclusive Interview With Flesh-Eating Bacteria Survivor Aimee Copeland
Aimee says she “started to feel totally comfortable around him,” and began to realize that not everyone sees her as “this disabled girl.”
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At one point in their relationship, she was struggling to do something and Stephen said, “Babe, just use your fingers.”
“I was like, ‘Think about what you just said.’ He legitimately forgot that I didn’t have fingers,” she says.
It was in that moment that Aimee realized her boyfriend cared for her so deeply that he was able to look beyond her disabilities.
“He accepted me for something much deeper than what I present on the outside,” she says.