Gauteng / 14 September 2012, 10:36am / THERESA TAYLOR
Johannesburg - Pippie begins to cry. Anice Kruger scratches her bird-like daughter gently until she finds the right spot. Pippie is quiet for a few seconds before she begins to cry again.
The three-year-old burn victim is constantly itchy, but the most difficult thing for Anice is keeping her resolve that Pippie is not brain damaged.
“Everyone knows there was a brain injury after the strokes, for me not to believe that, I didn’t make it easy for them [the doctors],” Anice said at the Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in Joburg on Thursday.
“There might be an insult [injury] but I know she can work through it. Her brain is still plastic. I’m still trying and believing there is no damage.”
In June, Pippie’s plight touched people internationally after the little girl, who suffered burns to 85 percent of her body on New Year’s Eve, received grafts of skin grown from her own cells. Prior to that she spent five gruelling months in intensive care, where she went into cardiac arrest five times and had multiple infections.
Months later, Anice has kept a thin strand of her signature pink hair, which she dyed her daughter’s favourite colour to cheer her up during the operations. It has brought them good luck. From tonight, Pippie will be staying in Linden with her parents and attending the rehab hospital during the day.
“I have not seen her for four weeks and it’s amazing the improvement,” said Alan Barrett, the medical director at Genzyme.
Since attending rehab, Pippie has endured a gruelling daily schedule which includes physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, dry needling, and treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
These have improved her muscle mass and put her on the road towards being able to sit up and walk.
Barrett said it was very unlikely Pippie would need more skin grafts but, as she grew, she would need plastic surgery. Her grafted skin has no sweat glands, stretches slowly and takes two to three years to get pigment. Pippie’s skin is so tight that on her neck she has a large cut from where it has ripped.
One of the times she is the happiest is in the bath, when her itching skin is soothed.
Anice said the family, who live in Ellisras but who have been camped out in Joburg since Pippie’s mishap, have just moved to a bigger place in Linden to accommodate everything Pippie needs for her rehabilitation. Some of the things she requires are a standing frame, a walking frame, a bath chair and a small home gym, as well as a frame to help her to learn to lie on her side again.
“I know she can [get better] and she will. We are just going to work her a little bit longer, a little bit harder. There is no way I’m taking her back to Ellisras. She will stay here until she’s 100 percent. She will have operations until she is 18 or until she tells me she has had enough, and she’s perfect how she is.”
Anice added that Pippie had been happy lately. Her father Irwin is always able to make his daughter laugh and there was a pair of doves outside Pippie’s room in rehab that she insisted on watching every morning.
A few weeks ago, Pippie said her first word since the skin graft operation. Mama.
Before the operation, she was saying “mama”, “papa” and “eina”, but being put on a ventilator during her recovery set her back again.
Anice said she felt emotional when she heard her child speak. “As always, she was the one giving me strength. I burst out crying and she was so shocked because she made her mother cry, so I don’t think she’s doing it again,” Anice laughed.