Cape Town - Moments after 10-year-old Andrea Katzeff was scalped at an indoor go-kart facility, she looked at the paramedic and asked: “Am I going to die?”
“He looked at me with a face that said ‘yes’,” says Katzeff, now 20.
Ten years ago, the young Katzeff was scalped when her waist-length blonde hair was caught in the rear axle of the go-kart she was driving. Katzeff had accompanied a friend and his mother to the Indoor Grand Prix track at Canal Walk. She was rushed to the N1 City hospital and underwent several skin grafts but her hair has never regrown.
She was left with a few stray hairs at the nape of her neck.
She spent a month in hospital at the time and another six months “more in than out”.
Katzeff’s father, Neill Katzeff, went on to sue Canal Walk and the Indoor Grand Prix for R3 million.
He won his lawsuit against the Indoor Grand Prix but failed against Canal Walk but says, Katzeff, the family did not receive any monetary gain.
Today, Andrea Katzeff is a cheerful UCT student who, despite her go-karting incident, is loathe to shy away from the extreme.
A downhill skateboarder, she is gearing up for a provincial competition in February that includes “leather outfits”.
Katzeff sports the cuts and bruises from skateboard injuries as if they were medals of honour. But it’s hard to miss the deeply etched scar that runs across most of her forehead, partly covered by what she calls a “hair system” which is made up of human hair and is attached to what is left of the “paper thin layer of skin” that now covers her head.
While she remembers the accident with surprising clarity, she says it’s not something she “ponders” about.
“But I haven’t tried to block it out,” she says. “And the scar doesn’t bother me.”
“I remember it happened just before the finish line. I ran my hands over my head and they were covered in blood, my T-shirt was covered in blood and my eyes were filled with blood. I ran towards everyone there but they screamed and I thought: ‘Is it so horrific that older people run away?”
She says all the nerves in her body shut down and she could feel no pain.
“I had the shakes and the shivers. I felt like I was about to pass out but I was forcing myself not to.”
Paramedics arrived and she was put into an ambulance along with her mother, Natalie, who tried to comfort her.
She underwent six skin grafts, two of which failed.
“The doctor took the skin from my buttocks. It hurt so much. The doctor said it was the most skin he had ever taken from one space in his entire career,” she says seriously, before breaking into a smile: “So yeah, you can call me butthead.”
But despite her light-hearted approach, she knows the incident left behind more than just the scar on her forehead. “The hardest moment for me was when I was about to go into surgery and it was the first time ever that I saw my dad cry. That still lives with me to this day.
“I regret all the crap I put them through when (the accident) could have easily been prevented. My mom and dad were the ones who had to deal with the consequences.”
Katzeff admits to lying to her friend’s mother at the time that she had been granted permission by her parents to ride the go-karts.
Asked whether she had ever been go-karting again, she shakes her head.
“But that’s not because of the accident. I just have no interest in it. I have fallen from my skateboard many times – one time suffering serious concussion – but have always gone back to it because I love it.”
So how does a girl who has survived such a horrific ordeal turn into such a daredevil?
“Skating has just always been my thing. I am more cautious though, and always wear my knee and elbow pads. My parents know I’m more responsible.”
She still hopes that one day, technology will be advanced enough to enable her to grow her own hair again – if only for the “convenience” of not having to reattach her hair every few months. Her scalp is also susceptible to cancer and infection, she says.
Last year Katzeff and her father visited a plastic surgeon in New York to see whether the fine remaining hair follicles on her neck could be grown in a petri dish and be transplanted to her scalp. The brown “hair system” she now wears is attached to the thin layer of skin on her head with “special adhesive glue”.
It is structured and moulded to her specific needs, has to be replaced every one to three months and can take up to a hour. The plus side? It gives her an opportunity to experiment with different styles and hair colours.
“Blondes don’t really have more fun,” she laughs. “That’s a lie.”
She is convinced, however, she will get her own hair back.
“I’ve been positive about the outcome since the beginning. At this rate, I think I’ve started my own gene pool.”
* Where Are They Now? is a feature in the Cape Times. If you have suggestions for who we can track down, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, with Where Are They Now? in the subject line.