April 29, 2017 12:23 PM EDT

Nearly a year after suffering a horrific injury on a carnival ride, 12-year-old Elizabeth Gilreath is speaking publicly about her recovery.

“My scars don’t define me. Nobody’s scars should define them,” she told NBC affiliate WOWT 6 News Thursday.

Gilreath, who goes by the name Lulu, suffered life-threatening injuries, when her long hair got caught in the machinery of the King’s Crown ride at a carnival in Omaha, Neb. Her entire scalp was ripped from her head, and she suffered damage to both of her eyes, according to WOWT.

Gilreath was rushed to the hospital in critical condition and ultimately managed to pull through, thanks to the efforts of doctors who completed two head surgeries, three skin grafts, one eye surgery and 28 blood transfusions, the network reported.

“Lulu is stronger than me,” her mother, Virginia Cooksey, posted on Facebook, in May 2016. “My baby girl saw herself for the first time today. The way she handle[d] it [gave] me strength.”

Gilreath is now in the sixth grade with, as seen in the affiliate interview, with red hair long enough for her to put it in a ponytail.

“I loved my hair. It was extremely rare,” she told WOWT, adding that, while she has made significant progress to recover from her injuries, she would never ride another carnival ride again.

Cooksey said that she has lawsuits in the works — one against the company that makes the King’s Crown ride and another against the State of Nebraska.


More Must-Read Stories From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com.

You May Also Like