How Woman Who Lost Limbs to Flesh-Eating Bacteria Found Love, as Husband Says She’s ‘Perfect’ (Exclusive)

“We were a 95% match on OkCupid,” Aimee Copeland tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue

<p>Caitlyn Weathers</p> Aimee Copeland

Caitlyn Weathers

Aimee Copeland's wedding to Steven Mercier.

After Aimee Copeland’s traumatic zip-lining accident in 2012, which required an amputation of each of her limbs, she had to accept that the man she was dating before her accident was not going to be a part of her future. But it was that split that led her to fully embrace the life ahead of her — and ultimately led her to find her soulmate, Stephen Mercier, in 2015.

“We were a 95% match on OkCupid,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. "We're extremely compatible. We're very different, but in ways that really balance each other.”

“I consider him by my built-in brake system," the now-36-year-old survivor says. "When I’m hitting the gas too hard, I know I’m not going to hit a retaining wall because he will tap the brakes and mind to relax.”

She adds: “We have an amazing flow together.”

<p>Caitlyn Weathers</p> Aimee Copeland's wedding to Steven Mercier.

Caitlyn Weathers

Aimee Copeland's wedding to Steven Mercier.

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It didn’t take long after they met for Mercier, 36, to be “really attracted to her powerful mind, her powerful just energy and spirit about her," he says, adding, "She's definitely a manifesting-type person to where she can kind of make things happen.”

Over the years, he's been there as she she became a licensed therapist, got two masters degrees and started her non-profit, The Aimee Copeland Foundation in 2017, where she helps people with disabilities get out into nature. She's also launched All-Terrain Georgia, an initiative providing off-road wheelchairs to help more people access state parks.

Related: Texas Man Warns Hurricane Irma Victims After Getting Flesh-Eating Bacteria From Harvey Floodwaters

In the early days of their relationship, which was filled with philosophical conversations, camping trips and kayaking trips, Copeland says it was Mercier who helped her regain her self-esteem.

"I have this memory that really stands out of me and Stephen cuddling, and he's like, ‘I think your body is absolutely perfect,’' ’ she recalls, “He really appreciates me. I haven’t had low-self esteem since then. I feel beautiful.”

Even though she fell hard in the beginning, Copeland wanted to take it slow, and was “playing the field a little bit,” she says. But she soon realized he was the one. After five years together, they decided to get married and had a small and “really meaningful” ceremony at her family’s lake house in 2021.

<p>Caitlyn Weathers</p> Aimee Copeland's wedding to Steven Mercier.

Caitlyn Weathers

Aimee Copeland's wedding to Steven Mercier.

"My sister was my maid of honor and we just had the best time,“ says Copeland, who lives with Mercier in Asheville, North Carolina. “We designed the whole ceremony and wrote our own vows. And my dad was the one who facilitated the ceremony as a deacon.”

For more on Aimee Copeland's incredible life, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

At the end of the night, she recalls, “his mom got us this beautiful blanket as a gift, and we laid it out on the dock and just looked at the stars and had a fire and stayed up all night. I woke up in my wedding dress still.”

Related: Cases of Flesh-Eating Bacteria Are on the Rise as Summer Heats Up: Here's How to Stay Safe

While Copeland looks forward to planning a big bash for her their 5-year vow renewal, she also can’t help but look back.

“We learn about ourselves through the mirrors of other people and he reflected all this beauty back to me, which allowed me to regain my sense of self in some ways,” she says.

Adds Mercier, "She doesn't like to present a persona to the world. What you hear is pretty much what you get with her. So I found that very refreshing."

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