The phone rings. It’s for Anice Kruger. Her heels clatter on the shiny floor as she walks across the rehabilitation centre’s reception area to pick up the call.
She returns to the coffee shop, beaming. “That was a 10-year-old girl on the line. She wants to come and visit Pippie because she says Pippie is the strongest and most inspirational little girl alive.”
This is another sign of how her daughter, Isabella “Pippie” Kruger, is changing people’s lives, she says. “I get a lot of these kinds of calls and love letters and Teddies.” She says she keeps every little note and card from boys and girls. “But I told Dr (Ridwan) Mia (Pippie’s plastic surgeon) that the only time I will ever think of Pippie dating is if it’s his son,” she laughs.
On Wednesday, the three-year-old whose story has touched people across the world, was discharged from Netcare’s Garden City Hospital in Joburg where she had been in its paediatric ICU for the past six months. She was taken to Netcare’s Rehabilitation Hospital in Auckland Park for another six months of gruelling physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy so she can walk and talk again.
Kruger, who also has a one-year-old son, Arno, produces a photograph of Pippie taking her first bath in months on Monday.
“You can see it’s still shiny but there’s skin. It has to look like that. Glad wrap is the effect we need.”
Last month, Pippie made local history when her burnt skin was layered with sheets of cloned skin grown from her own cells in a US laboratory, run by Genzyme. The revolutionary procedure has transformed the third-degree burns she suffered to 80 percent of her body when a gel fire lighter exploded in her father’s hands as he was preparing a braai on the family’s farm in Ellisras.
Doctors at Garden City gave her three days to live - but Pippie has clung to life, surviving multiple-organ failure, cardiac arrest five times and undergoing 45 operations. And there will be more.
“I’m so proud of her. She’s a different child,” says her mother.
“You can see she’s got pain because her muscles are stiff but there are no burn pains or pain from the grafts. The night she got here she slept on her belly and she hasn’t slept on her belly for forever. It’s amazing, she is falling asleep now without medicine. She’s so tired because of all the hard work.
“She doesn’t stop eating. She doesn’t miss anything - she’s like a newborn baby and is so alert. When we arrived here, she kept on looking for the butterfly Dr Mia had given her for her birthday. It took us an hour to put it up.”
Pippie can still only say three words: mama, papa and eina, but her mom has hope. “Even her new doctor said there is nothing wrong with her speech, because when she ‘uuuhs’ everyone jumps. Here, they will actually force her to speak before she gets something.”
Kruger cried herself to sleep this week after saying goodbye to Garden City staff, who became her second family. “We’ll always have a special bond. That’s the only hospital that wanted to help me,” she said.
Kruger hopes Pippie will be able to return home by February.
Pretoria News Weekend