Warning: Graphic content.
Nearly a year ago, 12-year-old Elizabeth Gilreath was on a carnival ride in Omaha, Nebraska. But instead of that ride being a point of fun, a freak accident occurred. Elizabeth – affectionately known as Lulu to her family – found her hair caught in the ride. Her scalp was ripped from her head in the process.
Now, with the benefit of time giving the young teenager a chance to navigate the trauma of the incident, Lulu has spoken of it for the first time. And she’s made it very clear she is far more than just her accident.
“My scars don’t define me. Nobody’s scars should define them,” Lulu told WOWT 6 News.
Lulu doesn’t remember much from that day. She does remember sliding down from her seat in the ride, but the rest is black. Her next memory is of waking up in hospital.
“I told her, ‘I feel like my head was smushed, Mom.’ And she told me what happened,” Lulu told the news outlet.
Since that day, Lulu has had two head surgeries, three skin grafts, one eye surgery and 28 blood transfusions. She has also vowed to never ride a carnival ride again.
In the wake of the horror, Lulu and her mother say they have not been without support. As news of the accident spread worldwide nearly a year ago, Lulu’s mum says they received around 5,000 letters and care packages from strangers around the world.
Her mum, Virginia Cooksey, told the news outlet Lulu’s strength is infectious and motivating.
“She can get through anything,” she said. “It’s what keeps me going. It’s what keeps me strong.”
Posting on Facebook in the weeks after the accident, Virginia wrote about her young daughter’s strength and resilience upon being faced with the reality of her injuries for the first time.
“Lulu is stronger than me. My baby girl saw herself for the first time today. The way she handled it gave me strength. The doctor came in today and said she will have surgery Friday or Saturday this week, so please keep praying for my little girl. She still can’t see out of her left eye,” she wrote at the time.
Virginia told WOWT 6 News she still has two lawsuits pending against the company who created the carnival ride and another against the State of Nebraska for negligence.