Something did not smell good when Kilee Brookbank arrived home from school one day in 2014. A candle might help, she thought, so she grabbed one. A lighter, too. The moment she flicked the lighter, her whole world exploded.
Almost three years later, the stepdaughter of 2007 Hillsboro High School graduate Brooke Dance Brookbank can do everything she did before she flicked the lighter. But the literal scars are still there, and the whole ordeal has inspired her to help others going through similar trauma.
She has raised more than $150,000 for Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati, and in November, an updated version of her book “Beautiful Scars – A Life Redefined” will be released.
“I wanted to light a candle to cover up the smell and everything blew up around me,” said Brookbank, a current Georgetown resident and 2016 Ripley High School graduate. “The lighter, the whole house, everything blew up. I was out for a couple seconds and I woke up to our dog barking at me.”
She knew something was wrong, but couldn’t wrap her mind around it. She said she ran to a neighbor’s house, ripping her shirt off while she ran.
“I was still in shock. I had no idea what had happened. It was just a blur,” Brookbank said.
She was at Shriners Hospital for 38 days. Forty-five percent of her body was burned, about 20 percent with third-degree burns and 25 percent with second-degree burns. Except for one small place that did not require a skin graft, her faced was spared. But her arms, hands, stomach, legs, back and spots on pretty much the rest of her body had major burns.
When she was first released from the hospital, Brookbank had to return at least three times a week for therapy and other treatment. The visits lessened as the weeks passed, and after about a year, she was finally released.
She is a student at Xavier University now, but in her spare time has had two books published; through public speaking promotes a positive self-image that embraces scars and body types of all kinds; encourages young people to get involved with charity and community causes, inspired by her Kilee Gives Back Foundation, which has raised the money for Shriners Hospital in Cincinnati; and presents an anti-bullying message rooted in finding value in every individual’s story.
She also makes sure all four Shriners Hospitals in the United States have copies of “Beautiful Scars” for any kids who might want them.
“I do it because I was in a bad situation myself,” Brookbank said. “I want to be kind of a role model for people to see that they can get through anything in their life.”
Not long after she first got out of the hospital, she said she spoke with her natural mother about writing a book, but they determined it was not quite the right time. She said she wanted to write it because of all the other kids in the hospital who were in situations similar to hers, but had nowhere to turn.
“I wanted it to give them some kind of guidance, just to be of some help to people, and let them know what’s to come,” Brookbank said.
She started the foundation, mostly funded through a golf tournament that raised about $70,000 this year, after she wrote her first book.
“I decided it would be good to do something for Shriners because everything they do is donation based. My family and I never had to pay them anything and I wanted to give back to them and future patients who need help,” Brookbank said.
Speaking about bullying is a new endeavor. She said she never experienced it and people never made fun of her – at least, she never heard it.
“But I speak on it because I have the opportunity, I’ve kind of been on that edge, and I want to touch on it because that’s really important in today’s world,” she said.
In May, Brookbank’s first children’s book will be released. It’s titled “Digger the Hero Dog.”
“It about the dog that woke me up and saved me,” she said. “Without him, I probably wouldn’t be here. I was unconscious and him barking woke me up. I kind of pay tribute to him through the book.”
Brookbank said her entire family, including her stepmother who has attended several of her speaking engagements and other events, have been there for her through the whole ordeal. But she knows some kids don’t have that support, and that’s why she wants to help.
“I tell them to just keep fighting throughout it all, because it does get better, and eventually it will pay off,” she said.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]