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Burn victim gets new skin from Boston

THERESA TAYLOR

SNAP: Doctor Ridwan Mia, in charge of the skin transplant team, prepares for Pippie Kruger's big operation. Pictures: Antoine de Ras. Credit: INLSA

THERE was laughter outside the operating theatre of the Garden City Hospital last night.

Three-year-old burn victim Pippie Kruger’s family had been waiting more than 21 hours for her artificially grown skin to arrive from Boston, in the US.

And when it did arrive, it was a gift that made mother Anice Kruger feel like a child on Christmas Day. “I didn’t cry, I’m so excited,” she said.

The skin, which was grown from Pippie’s own cells in a lab in Boston, had only 24 hours to get to the theatre and on to Pippie’s wounds, otherwise it would have been useless.

But the wait actually began six months ago, when Pippie sustained 80 percent burns in an accident on New Year’s Eve. Her father, Erwin, was using a bottle of gel firelighter to start a braai when it exploded, covering his daughter in flames.

Yesterday, Mande Toubkin, general manager of Netcare’s emergency, trauma and transplant unit, had a big smile on her face when she arrived, sirens blaring, at the hospital with the skin. She and her team had taken 16 minutes to get the case of skin from OR Tambo International to the hospital.

A man, known only as Umesh Mistri, had handed over the case at the airport. Two air tickets had been booked, one for Mistri and one for the steel case containing the skin.

“You probably don’t remember me, but I was here the night the accident happened,” said Toubkin to Kruger after she had handed the case of skin to the theatre doctors. “I’ve been rooting for your daughter.”

An otherwise cheerful Kruger began to cry. Her mascara smudged under her eyes as she hugged each member of the transplant team.

Plastic surgeon Dr Ridwan Mia, who has been caring for Pippie since her accident, then closed the theatre’s doors to begin the operation.

The two-hour operation involved Mia placing the skin segments over the burnt areas and holding them in place with surgical clips on the body, and absorbent stitches on the face. After the operation, Pippie’s limbs were due to be put in splints and she was to be sedated for a week to stop her from moving the skin.

Her grandparents, father and 11-month-old brother will be staying in town. “(This situation) puts a strain on any marriage, but luckily, going through this, we are getting stronger,” Erwin

Kruger said.

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