Pippie Kruger, the little burn patient who made medical history when she received grafts cloned from her own skin, is being discharged from hospital on Tuesday.
“It is a big milestone… and a whole new journey,” her excited mother, Anice, said.
Although three-year-old Pippie no longer needs to be monitored 24 hours a day, she will continue to be an out-patient at the Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, for many months to come.
Pippie has already been allowed occasional weekend passes to stay with her parents and baby brother, Arno, at their rented flat, but now her mother is looking for a bigger apartment.
The news that Pippie would be discharged came unexpectedly and her mother has had a hectic few days searching for the equipment that her daughter needs, including a wheelchair, a standing frame and a bath seat.
Pippie, christened Isabella, still cannot walk, talk or sit, but Kruger predicts that “she is going to be perfect”.
But, the child understands what is being said and when she giggles, her mother giggles even more.
“It is little things that make her happy. She has the biggest smile and it just gets bigger and bigger every day,” Kruger said.
Although Pippie still faces six to eight months of rehabilitation, it is a far cry from the dark days when she almost died.
Yet through it all, her devoted mother has never stopped believing that her daughter would survive.
A freak accident at the Kruger’s farm in Lephalale in Limpopo, when the family was preparing for a New Year’s Eve braai, left the blonde girl with 80 percent of her body covered in third-degree burns.
Her mother has said that she would never get the picture out of her mind of her daughter lying on the grass and her skin bubbling and falling off.
Pippie had suffered four strokes, kidney failure, collapsed lungs and one infection after another.
She also underwent multiple transfusions and was on a ventilator so long that the once-talkative child stopped speaking.
It was 150 days before Pippie smiled again.
Although 40 percent of her skin grew back, there was still not enough healthy skin to do a graft using her own skin.
Then, during an internet search about burn wounds, her mother found a website for Genzyme, a cell therapy manufacturing company, which has a product called Epicel (cultural epidermal autografts) which enables a patient’s own healthy skin cells to be cloned into skin grafts to cover their burns.
Kruger contacted the company, which got in touch with their South African subsidiary, which liaised with Pippie’s plastic surgeon, Dr Ridwan Mia.
The transplant, which took place a few months ago, was a success.
With Pippie on the mend, she was transferred to the rehabilitation hospital for speech, occupational and physical therapy.
Mia continues to visit Pippie and popped in to see her when she had a weekend pass.
“Pippie still loves him. He is her number one man. She has had so many operations and he is here for the long run,” her mother said.
Kruger has not yet told Pippie what happened to her and she does not want anyone else to tell her either, because she does not want to add to the trauma her daughter has already suffered.
“I want her to be able to talk and ask questions,” Kruger said.
People are always asking the little girl’s mother when she will be allowed home for good, but Kruger never asks doctors that question.
“I take each day as it comes. It depends on what God wants.”
Pippie will receive therapy from Monday to Saturday, but her family does not know yet how long each session will last.
In the meantime, her mother is looking forward to cooking for her “wonderful” daughter, who has a healthy appetite.
“She never stops eating,” Kruger said.