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Pippie Kruger, the little burn victim who cheated death and captured the hearts of the nation, is on the mend with the help of a tablet called the Lazarus Pill.
The three-year-old girl who sustained burns on 80 percent of her body in an accident last New Year’s Eve has already shown some signs of improvement after taking the sleeping tablet Stilnox, nicknamed the Lazarus Pill because it has awoken brain-injured patients from comas.
Pippie was able to sit up on her own after taking it, her mother Anice said on Sunday night.
“She did show some signs of improvement,” Pippie’s mother said on Sunday night, adding that as Pippie had minor and not severe brain damage, it was hard to tell if the improvements were because of the tablet or because of Pippie’s own efforts.
As a result, she was on the Lazarus Pill for a week and then off it for two weeks.
“But right now, it is the pill that is working, as well as Pippie working harder… we try everything and hopefully it will help.”
Another recent milestone was when Pippie stood with the help of her mother.
“That was in the two weeks she was off the pill. I do not want her to be dependent on any drugs any more,” her mother said.
The dramatic effects of the Lazarus Pill on brain-damaged patients was discovered in South Africa by chance when a mother asked her Springs, Gauteng, GP, Dr Wally Nel, if she could give her son half a tablet as he was restless.
Sienie Engelbrecht’s son, Louis Viljoen, had been in a coma for years, but, amazingly, within half an hour of his mother giving him the tablet he turned his head towards her and said “Hello mommy.”
Instead of making him fall asleep, the tablet woke him up. When the medication wore off, he went back into a coma and the pill continues to bring him around.
Nel and Dr Ralf Clauss, a professor in nuclear medicine, have studied the effects of the pill and believe that when a brain injury happens, not all brain cells die, but are dormant. The Lazarus Pill wakes up the dormant cells.
Doctors have told Pippie’s parents that their daughter will probably not walk or talk again.
But Pippie’s mother thinks otherwise.
Asked what Father Christmas will be bringing her daughter this year, she said: “I am just praying for her to speak.”
Pippie already says “Hey,” “Eina,” and “Hello.”
On the practical side, Pippie has been spoiled with Lego.
The family celebrated Christmas early this year because they wanted to be together before Pippie had an operation last Tuesday.
The hour-long operation, called a 5-flat Z Plasty, was to help her to move her left arm better. A scar under her armpit, which was restricting her movement, was removed, and it was a “huge success” her mother said. “Every day she impresses me more and more.”
The past year has been a rollercoaster for Pippie and her family, but they have also witnessed their fair share of miracles. “And I have a feeling, there are a lot more still to come,” her mother said .
But just like any mother, Pippie’s mom just wants her daughter to be happy.
Pippie was christened Isabella last Christmas Day, but a few days later disaster struck just as the family was preparing a New Year’s Eve braai.
Pippie’s father, Erwin, had put firelighter gel on a stick to light the fire, when the bottle suddenly exploded in his hand, burning him and spewing flaming liquid over Pippie’s body and face.
Pippie’s mother will never forget the sight of her daughter’s skin bubbling off.
A 400km ambulance ride from the family’s farm in Lephalale (previously Ellisras) in Limpopo to the Netcare Garden City Hospital in Johannesburg followed, where doctors gave Pippie a mere 10 percent chance of survival.
But the little fighter clung to life.
It took two months to stabilise here; she had four strokes, kidney failure, collapsed lungs and one infection after another. She had multiple transfusions and was on a ventilator so long that the once-talkative tot stopped speaking.
Then, in June, she became the first person in South Africa to undergo a life-changing transplant using skin grafts cloned from her own skin to cover her severely scarred body. Two small skin biopsies were flown to America where her skin cells were cultured in a specialised laboratory into grafts, then flown back to Johannesburg for the breakthrough procedure.
The family is spending the holidays at the Linden, Johannesburg, flat, where Pippie and her mother have been living while Pippie undergoes out-patient rehabilitation. They could be going home in April.
But on New year’s Eve - the anniversary of that dreadful day that nearly cost Pippie her life - her mother plans to sleep.
“It sounds funny, but after everything, it’s one thing I cannot face yet,” she said.