Although Gilreath might not remember much from that day, many others know her story: The preteen’s hair got caught in the ride’s machinery, and her entire scalp was ripped from her head. Photos of the aftermath of the accident spread across the web, and people from around the world began sending letters, care packages and well wishes to Gilreath and her family.
According to WOWT 6 News, the now-12-year-old underwent two head surgeries, three skin grafts, one eye surgery and 28 blood transfusions following the accident, much of which her mom, Virginia Cooksey, documented with emotional (and, at times, graphic) posts on Facebook. Cooksey also filed two lawsuits: One against the company that made the carnival ride, and one against the State of Nebraska for negligence.
One year later: Lulu speaks out about recovery after carnival ride https://t.co/QIZLLDk9nCpic.twitter.com/GaSePQzaTI— WOWT 6 News (@WOWT6News) April 27, 2017
A year has passed since her accident, but Gilreath’s fight is still far from over: She was admitted to the hospital just a few weeks ago with an infection that irritated her head wounds, and she’s got another eye surgery coming up soon. But her signature bright-red curls are growing back in (“I can actually pull my hair up into a ponytail,” she told WOWT) and she’s back in school now, tackling the sixth grade.
And, in an inspirational display of strength, she continues to smile and stay positive.
It’s hard to imagine someone so young enduring so much, but Gilreath has proven time and time again that she’s a fighter — and in the end, she says her horrible accident has just made her that much stronger.
“My scars don’t define me,” she told WOWT. “Nobody’s scars should define them.”