Twelve-year-old Elizabeth “Lulu” Gilreath lives with her parents in Nebraska. Like many kids her age, Lulu loves fairs and couldn’t wait to go to the big one in her home city of Omaha. But when she set out to share the excitement with her mom, she had no idea what sort of horror awaited her.
As she was laughing on a carnival ride, a nightmarish scene unfolded: her long hair got caught in the mechanics as the platform was spinning beneath her. A huge portion of her scalp was torn from her head as was part of her face. She was suffering for five long minutes before her mother was able to get the operators to stop the ride. She says she will never forget hearing her daughter scream.Lulu was immediately taken to the hospital where the doctors worked for hours, fighting for her life. The little girl pulled through, but her condition remained critical. She spent a week in intensive care, but that was just the beginning.
Lulu needed massive skin transplants and was told her face would never look the same again. Her hair would also never grow back. Other long-term effects weren’t known.
But her whole family tried to stay positive and felt incredibly supported by the many people who offered to help them. Their fellow Omaha residents collected over $65,000 to help the family cover sizeable medical bills and letters of encouragement came in from around the United States. Lulu read each one and tried her best to reply to them all.
Despite this terrible nightmare, the little girl remained in pretty good spirits. Her mother was so proud, “Lulu is stronger than I am,” she said.
Now Lulu and her mom are petitioning to make sure such rides have stricter safety testing. They are supporting a federal law to address the matter. “This never should’ve happened, and it can’t happen again,” wrote Lulu’s mom on the petition site.
Three months after the event, Lulu’s healing process was going better than expected, but Lulu was really nervous to see how things would be when she returned to school. Would her classmates tease her or lift her spirits?
Together with her mom, Lulu picked out a wig with hopes that it would help her feel a little bit better, but she admitted she was still nervous: “I feel like myself again. But what if my classmates don’t like how I look?” But it turns out that most had heard about her accident and accepted her as she was. Everyone was astounded by her courage.
Lulu warns anyone who will listen about the dangers of such carousels and shares the pain she’s experienced, “Make sure that nothing is hanging from the carousel — pony tails, jackets, hoods, cords — anything that can get caught has to be fastened.” She wants to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else ever again.
What a courageous young woman! Hopefully her body and spirit continue to heal so she can return as soon as possible to her normal life as an 12-year-old girl. And let’s hope nothing like this ever happens again.
Here’s the video of the this extraordinary girl’s bravery and resilience: