Lori Highlander was a pretty typical working mom, raising two teenage children and two stepsons in a rural community outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. But in November 2014, Lori’s home erupted in flames caused by a gas leak—and Lori’s daughter, Kilee Brookbank, then 16, was caught inside. Kilee made it out of the blazing house but spent the next 38 days recovering from second- and third-degree burns over almost half her body. When she returned home from the hospital, Kilee needed constant care and physical therapy, and Lori found her life turned upside down. Now, almost three years later, Kilee has made a full recovery, and Lori, 41, has teamed with her daughter on the book Beautiful Scars: A Life Redefined and the nonprofit Kilee Gives Back Foundation to raise awareness of and money for Shriners Hospitals for Children. Here, Lori shares her family’s triumphant story and offers some inspiring words for other parents going through difficult times.
What prompted you to share your family’s intimate story with the world?
We decided to share our story to raise awareness for Shriners Hospitals for Children and to help others who might be experiencing similar situations. No matter what you are going through in life, you can make it if you try hard enough. There might be quite a few bumps along the way, but through each struggle, we are given that life experience for a reason. You can choose to do something about it, or you can sit back and play the victim role. It’s a choice, and our family chose to do something positive with our story
Did the writing process give you a new perspective on what you had been through?
Writing the book allowed me to go through the grieving process that I was unable to do while Kilee was recovering. I was so occupied with helping her and making sure she made a full recovery that I didn’t allow myself to go through all of the emotions. When I was writing the book, I actually sat down and was able to process it and let it all out. The mixed emotions poured out of me like I’d never felt before, and it was great to get it out. But I also had a reality check of how far Kilee and our family had truly come. It was a horrific accident, but Kilee made a miraculous recovery. She continues to inspire people and make the best of what happened, and we are so grateful for this life that we live.
Watching and helping your daughter recover from burns on nearly half of her body was an incredible challenge! How did it redefine your life and your family’s life together?
Our journey hasn’t been typical. At times, in the early days after the explosion, it almost seemed unbearable. But it’s made us who we are, as individuals and as a family. We’ve healed, we’ve grown stronger, and we will continue to share our story in hopes of helping others.
As a woman, have you changed your thoughts about self-image and body consciousness as a result of your experiences with Kilee?
It’s remarkable to see how strong Kilee has been and continues to be. It’s not easy to share your scars with the world, and she inspires young girls, teenagers, and women to be confident with their bodies and accept their flaws and to wear whatever they feel comfortable in. I am so proud of how brave Kilee continues to be, because she inspires me to be like her more and more every day.
What advice do you have for other parents facing seemingly impossible situations with their children?
I would encourage them to try to remain calm and have hope. We all have more strength than we realize, so stay positive and take one day at a time.
A portion of the proceeds of your book benefits Shriners Hospitals for Children-Cincinnati. What do you want people to know about Shriners Hospitals?
That they save the lives of children from around the world every day and there is no out-of-pocket cost to the children’s families. Shriners Hospitals are amazing places that we will continue to support in any way we can. We are forever grateful to them for saving Kilee’s life!