CINCINNATI -- It’s amazing the difference 35 months can make -- and the difference a single, determined person can make in that time.
Nearly three years ago, Kilee Brookbank was the only person at her Georgetown, Ohio, home with her two dogs when an explosion inside the house nearly killed her.
She was so badly burned that she had to stay at Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati for 38 days to undergo a series of surgeries and skin grafts. Even after she was well enough to leave the hospital, months of healing and painful physical therapy followed.
Now, Kilee is a 19-year-old sophomore at Xavier University and an author preparing for the release of an update to her first book and publication of the next. She also is a philanthropist so successful that Shriners will honor Kilee by naming an on-site family care unit after her on Oct. 25. It’s the same unit where Kilee's family stayed back in 2014.
“The care that I received at Shriners was incredible, and I would not be here today without that care,” Kilee said. “We’re so happy that we can donate that money.”
To date, the Kilee Gives Back Foundation has donated more than $200,000 to Shriners, said Don Gorbandt, the hospital’s director of development. The bulk of the money has come from an annual golf outing the foundation organizes, which raised more than $74,000 this past August.
The Kilee Brookbank Celebrity Golf Tournament has quickly become the biggest third-party fundraiser for Shriners locally, Gorbandt said.
“We treat patients regardless of their ability to pay,” he added, and Shriners depends upon fundraisers to be able to do that. “She’s providing opportunities for other patients.”
But Kilee’s work for Shriners goes beyond an annual golf tournament.
'You can always get better if you try'
Some of the proceeds from the book "Beautiful Scars" also go to the hospital, too.
Kilee and her mom, Lori Highlander, wrote the book with former WCPO reporter Jessica Noll, who chronicled Kilee’s recovery in a 2015 story.
On Nov. 14, Kilee will release an updated version called “Beautiful Scars: A Life Redefined.”
“Where the first book left off, I was in the process of choosing a college,” Kilee said. “This is to update people on where I am.”
Kilee declared a communications major at Xavier, and college is keeping her busy.
But she also has written a children’s book about her dog, Digger, who saved her life in 2014 by barking to wake her after the explosion in her house. “Digger the Hero Dog” is scheduled for release in May 2018.
“Everybody always asks, anytime I’m doing some sort of speaking event, where’s the dog now?” Kilee said.
The Chihuahua-Yorkie mix is doing well, Kilee said, and she sees the children’s book as an opportunity to tell her story in a way that younger readers can understand.
In addition to all that, Kilee makes time to speak at local churches, to school groups and at Shrine centers around the region to tell her story and serve as an ambassador for Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati.
“I can kind of relate my story to basically anything that people are going through,” she said. “When I’m talking to kids who may be going through something tough, maybe bullying or anything they might be going through, I try to relate it back to you can always get better if you try.”
That’s especially important when she’s talking to children and teens that are patients at Shriners and are going through the painful healing process that Kilee experienced herself.
Kilee’s mom, Lori Highlander, said she’s amazed when she thinks back to Nov. 10, 2014, when Kilee was injured and everything her daughter has accomplished since then.
“She’s definitely got her stuff together and has turned into quite a young woman now,” Highlander said. “She continues to want to inspire and do good and make something good out of a bad situation.”
And in doing that, she has given Shriners more resources to help other kids through their own bad situations, too.
More information about Shriners Hospitals for Children -- Cincinnati is available online, too.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.