WHEN the first bandages were removed from the scarred legs of little burn patient Isabella (Pippie) Kruger on Monday night, those in the hospital theatre applauded.
For the cloned skin that was placed on three-year-old Isabella’s severely burnt body in a historic operation a week ago had “taken”.
“Everyone was in a jovial mood. And then another covering came off – and there was more clapping. It was a great experience,” said a delighted Dr Alan Barrett, head of the medical department of the South African subsidiary company of Genzyme, the Boston, US-based cell therapy manufacturer which cloned Isabella’s own skin so that it could be grafted on to her injured body.
Barrett, who was overseeing the three-and-a-half-hour operation to assess if the grafts had taken at Netcare’s Garden City Clinic, Joburg, then popped outside to give the good news to Isabella’s anxious mother, Anice. “She’s absolutely ecstatic and close to tears,” he said.
By the end of the night, it was assessed that more than 90 percent of Isabella’s cloned skin had taken, he said.
“There are a couple of areas that will close on their own. Isabella’s skin seems to heal well. She is an amazing little girl,” he said.
“Everything has taken well and surpassed our expectations. It was awesome to see. I have only ever seen the grafts in photographs and this looks even better. I take my hat off to those scientists in Boston.”
It was the end of a week of waiting, of worrying and of praying for Isabella’s parents whose daughter almost died in an accident at their farm in Laphalale, Limpopo, on New Year’s Eve when the fire-lighter gel that her father, Erwin, had put on a stick for a braai suddenly exploded in his hand.
When nurses told Anice that the first of the dressings had come off, revealing perfect pink skin beneath, the stress she had been under showed.
She exhaled, and when she did, her breath sounded as if it had been building since her three-year-old daughter went into surgery last week. Then she laughed loudly.
“It took all over, there is no infection… The skin is completely attached, but still see-through,” said Anice once she had calmed down.
Anice was dressed from head to toe in Pippie’s favourite colour for the “miracle day”. She had on pink glitter shoes, a pink-and-white polka dot dress, a big pink bow, a French manicure in different shades of pink and her signature pink hair.
She carried with her a light pink iPhone and a dark pink iPad for sending out info to some of her 30 000 Facebook followers and for receiving pictures of Pippie’s progress.
Anice said seeing her child sedated and on a ventilator all week had been difficult for her.
From today she’ll slowly be taken off the ventilator and woken up.
Isabella was burnt on 80 percent of her body and although about 40 percent of her skin gradually grew back, there was not enough skin to take grafts to cover the remaining burns on her face, chest, both arms, two burns on her legs, her sides and other wounds.
Her mother learnt that Genzyme was able to grow patients’ own healthy skin to cover their bodies.
Anice got in touch with the company, which contacted Bennett in Joburg and the huge logistical project to give Isabella the chance of a new life got under way.
Two 2x6cm size biopsies of healthy skin were taken from Isabella’s groin, which had been protected from the fire by her nappy, and sent to the Boston laboratory, where it took a week to isolate the cells, and another two weeks to multiply until there was enough skin for the historic life-changing grafting operation in South Africa.
After the grafts were assessed last night, she was re-bandaged and put back in splints and will stay sedated with a ventilator.
The plan was to wake her up this morning, although she will still be on a ventilator.
Sometime between today and Friday, the medical team will gradually decrease the sedation and start taking her off the ventilator. She is expected to be fully awake by Friday or Saturday.
Meanwhile, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane has showered praises on Pippie’s medical team, saying she too has been following the young burn victim’s emotional story.
“I am humbled by the medical team, led by Dr Ridwan Mia, and want them all to know how proud the whole of Gauteng is because of their efforts.
“Many of us can only imagine the strain all of you were under throughout the past few weeks. We are truly blessed to have such expertise, such care – among us,” she said.