An 11-year-old girl who was seriously injured when her hair was caught in an Omaha carnival ride nearly a week ago has opened one of her eyes and was able to speak after a breathing tube was removed, her mother said Friday.
"When she opened her eye and she told me, she was like 'Mommy I can see you'—I lost it,'" Virginia Cooksey said of her injured daughter, Elizabeth. "It does give me hope," Cooksey added.
Elizabeth, also called "Lulu," was on a spinning ride called the "King's Crown" at a Cinco de Mayo carnival in Omaha Saturday when her hair became trapped in the machinery and part of her scalp was torn off.
Her family said then that they feared the child may never see again. Cooksey said the girl's breathing tube was removed Thursday and doctors are amazed at her progress.
"Not even I want to say five minutes after they took her tube out, she was talking," Cooksey told reporters.
The child was thrown to the floor while on the ride. Her hair became caught in the ride's spinning mechanism, causing the scalp injury and fracturing her skull. Her left eye remains badly swollen, Cooksey said.
"She knows she fell, and the way she explains it, she says, 'Mom my head got squished,'" Cooksey said.
Lulu "still has a long road ahead of her," her mother said, and will likely need skin grafts to repair the damage.
The child's mother, sisters and other family members shaved part of their head in support. "We don't want Elizabeth to feel alone," Cooksey said.
Elizabeth Cooksey thanked the community for their support. Lulu's school signed a banner in support, donors contributed thousands to a GoFundMe page, and parents of other children injured in carnival rides have contacted her, she said.
The accident is under investigation, police said. State authorities said the ride was inspected in April without any sign of damage. Ride company Thomas D. Thomas Shows said in a statement to it "values the safety and health of our guests above all else," NBC affiliate WOWT reported.
"The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Thomas D. Thomas Shows are with the young girl and her family during this extremely difficult time," the company said.
Cooksey said she wants changes.
"Our whole goal is to raise awareness for better safety laws" and regulations, Cooksey said. "I never really paid attention to it, and most parents don't until it's your child," she said.