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Isabella “Pippie” Kruger yawned. The medicine to gently sedate her and ease her pain was taking effect. She continued talking to the angels crowding her room.
Her plastic surgeon, Ridwan Mia, prepared to clean the three-year-old’s dressings and examine how her fragile cloned skin had attached. “So far so good,” he pronounced, proudly.
To the relief of her mother, Anice, 27, she was taken off her ventilator yesterday morning at Netcare’s Garden City Hospital. “One hyperactive three-year-old coming up. Now you can see she is frustrated. I mean she’s a 0 percent burns baby now,” she smiled, happily.
“She needs something to do and some stimulation.”
Since her revolutionary skin graft surgery last week, little Pippie has been tightly bandaged so she does not disrupt her new skin. She has been in an induced coma in the hospital’s pediatric ICU unit and is now fully awake.
Last Monday, she became the recipient of pioneering surgery when her burnt skin was layered with cloned skin grown from her own cells in a US lab, run by Genzyme Laboratories. It was the first operation of its kind in SA.
“Well, they (Genzyme) gave us 60 percent hope and we got 95 percent (success),” said Anice, joyfully. “It looks like someone has slapped on Glad Wrap. But you can see the veins are attaching. I’m so happy, excited and so full of the grace of God. It’s awesome.”
Pippie’s father, Erwin, 40, said he was “ecstatic” about his daughter’s progress and could not wait for the family to be reunited on their Ellisras farm.
He said that his attorneys were preparing a lawsuit against the makers of the gel firelighter, which exploded on New Year’s Eve as he was making a braai. Pippie was consumed by the flames, which burnt 80 percent of her body.
“Other people have phoned to tell me how they have been hurt by the same gel firelighter,” he said.
Now awake, his daughter was “talking to the angels”. “When a baby is in hospital for these many months, they get irritated,” said Anice. “But Pippie is just so calm. When you look through the glass, you can see her mouth moving and no sounds coming out.
“When you walk in to her room, you get this ‘you’re interrupting us mommy’ look. I know the angels are talking to her and keeping her entertained. Ja, it’s one those miracles. There’s angels in her room. That’s why it’s so crowded.”
It was “terrible” seeing her baby back on a ventilator after the surgery. “By Thursday, I couldn’t handle the vent anymore. She was gagging on it.
“Yesterday, I threw a temper tantrum about it. It was irritating her. Now it’s out and she’s got a sore throat and she’s in this ‘please feel sorry for me’ mood… I think we (the family and hospital staff) were all tired, emotional and none of us could face each other.
“Everything else has been awesome. Seeing those blue eyes of hers, you can see she wants you to pick her up and cuddle her. I tell her let’s just do this quickly or that (to distract her) and keep her calm. I think being a mom makes you the biggest liar,” she smiled.
In the next two weeks, Pippie will begin an intensive process of physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy to help her regain her movement and speech – that will last for around six months.
The “hyperactive” Anice, who has chewed all her nails off and spends her time in-between theatre building wooden animals to teach her patience, was now experiencing “ICU separation anxiety”.
Hospital staff have become like family and Pippie also had her two favourite male nurses, who were incredibly tender with her.
“I actually Google my child. Pippie’s been in 72 international papers, excluding South Africa. Russia is not involved yet, but the rest of the world is there. It’s awesome.
“Now it’s just for her to run around to start speaking. I said it a few weeks ago, Pippie can be in ICU for the rest of forever, but I just want her to speak.
“I just want to hear her voice. Then I can take over the world.” -Saturday Star