Pippie’s moment of truth draws near

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SS_pippi before PIC INLSA The progress of skin graft patient Isabella Pippie Kruger, three, will be revealed on Monday. Picture: Antoine de Ras.

For Isabella “Pippie” Kruger, Monday is the “big reveal” – and when her mother, Anice Kruger, gets to unwrap her present.

“I want to see the package open,” smiled Anice. “Pippie’s going to be perfect. She is my beautiful princess.”

Her daughter suffered 80 percent burns in a New Year’s Eve accident and made headlines across the world on Monday when she became the first person in SA to have a skin graft using skin cloned from her and grown in a US laboratory.

And on Monday, Ridwan Mia, a plastic surgeon at Netcare’s Garden City Hospital, will wheel the toddler into surgery to see if her new skin has grown into place.

“We hope that her blood vessels grow into the skin to make sure it attaches and is kept alive,” said Alan Barrett of Genzyme Laboratories in SA, which runs the lab where Pippie’s skin was grown.

“She is being kept sedated in an induced coma and has been splinted and bandaged so that she cannot move at all.”

Pippie is likely to remain sedated and on a ventilator and will gradually be awoken next week. She will, in all likelyhood, be sent to a rehabilitation centre in the next five weeks where she will remain for several months.

“That’s when the next step of her journey begins… that’s playtime and tears,” said Kruger, who praised the dedicated hospital staff. “Even if I have to see Dr Mia for ops for the rest of forever, I won’t mind, because he’s like part of the family.”

Mia, who did the two-hour operation on Monday, said the alternatives were to use skin from a cadaver, but it would only be temporary and could cause infection.

“Tissue engineering is the new frontier of plastic surgery. It’s the concept of growing organs outside your body… and your skin is your biggest organ. That’s why this was such a big deal for us,” he said.

Mia said while Pippie would be a normal child, she probably wouldn’t be an Olympic swimmer. “She’s got a spirit in there. If she defies me I’ll be very happy.” - Saturday Star

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