Pippie begins to cry. Anice Kruger scratches her daughter gently until she finds the right spot. Pippie is quiet for a few seconds before she begins to cry again.
The three-year-old burn victim is constantly itchy, but the most difficult thing for Anice is keeping her resolve that Pippie is not brain damaged.
“Everyone knows there was a brain injury after the strokes. For me not to believe that, I didn’t make it easy for them [the doctors],” Anice said at the Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital yesterday.
“There might be an injury, but I know she can work through it… Her brain is still plastic… I’m still trying and believing there is no damage.”
In June, Pippie’s plight touched people internationally after the little girl, who suffered burns to 85 percent of her body on New Year’s Eve, received grafts of skin grown from her own cells. Before that she spent five months in ICU where she went into cardiac arrest five times and had multiple infections.
Months later, Anice has kept a thin strand of her signature pink hair which she dyed her daughter’s favourite colour to cheer her up during the operations. It has brought them good luck.
From tonight, Pippie is no longer a patient of any rehab or hospital but will be staying in Linden with her parents and attending the Netcare rehab during the day.
Since attending rehab, Pippie has endured a gruelling schedule which includes physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, dry needling and treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. These have improved her muscle mass and put her on the road to being able to sit up and walk.
Alan Barett, medical director at Genzyme, said it was very unlikely that Pippie would need more skin grafts, but as she grew she would need plastic surgery.
Her grafted skin has no sweat glands, stretches slowly and takes two to three years to get pigment. Pippie’s skin is so tight that on her neck she has a large cut from where her skin has ripped.
One of the times she is the happiest is in the bath, where the itching eases.
Anice said the family, who live in Ellisras but have camped out in Joburg since Pippie’s accident, had just moved to a bigger place in Linden to accommodate everything needed for Pippie’s rehabilitation.
“I know she can [get better] and she will. We are going to work her a little bit longer, a little bit harder. There is no way I’m taking her back to Ellisras… She will stay here until she’s 100 percent… She will have operations until she is 18, or until she tells me she’s had enough, and she’s perfect how she is.”
A few weeks ago, Pippie said her first word since the skin graft operation, “mama”. Before the operation she was saying “mama”, “papa” and “eina”, but being put on a ventilator set her back.
Anice said it was emotional to hear her child speak. “I burst out crying and she was so shocked, because she made her mother cry, so I don’t think she’s doing it again.”