040712. Garden City Hospital, Johannesburg. Siphiwe Mabaso the nurse feed Pippie Kruger while the mother Anice Kruger dress her up at Garden City Hospital, Johannesburg. Picture:L Chris Collingridge

Pippie’s “day daddy”, paediatric ICU nurse Simphiwe Mabaso, spooned chocolate custard into the toddler’s mouth. He lovingly wiped the excess from around the lips of the little burn victim, coaxing her when she wouldn’t open wide.

Mabaso, Pippie Kruger’s favourite day nurse, was among a host of Netcare Garden City Hospital staff members who needed to say goodbye to Pippie today as she left the hospital after seven months. She was taken to the Netcare rehabilitation centre in Auckland Park.

The farewells began early – before her planned discharge at 10am.

Pippie’s mother, Anice Kruger, packed up the things her daughter had accumulated in the ward. She battled to hold back the tears as she prepared to say goodbye to “her family” at the hospital. The place where her daughter has been since the day of the accident.

But Dr Ridwan Mia, Pippie’s plastic surgeon, will continue to dress her wounds, although she will have a new physiotherapist and speech therapist. Her current ones promise to visit regularly.

Pippie made global headlines when she underwent major surgery in which artificial skin grown from her own healthy cells at a laboratory in Boston in the US were grafted to her open burn wounds.

Pippie was hurt on December 31 when the family was preparing to celebrate New Year with a braai on their farm in Lephalale, Limpopo.

Her dad Erwin Kruger went to light the fire when the bottle of gel firelighter he was using exploded in his hand. Pippie, then only two years old, was next to him and took the brunt of the explosion, suffering third-degree burns.

She was rushed to Netcare Garden City Clinic and when doctors saw her a few hours later, her body had swelled three times her normal size. Her face was covered in black soot and her skin looked like a leather shell. She has been unable to leave the hospital because she had almost no skin.

Because of her severe injuries, she endured 45 operations , went into cardiac arrest five times, suffered pneumonia and had kidney failure. After many reconstructive surgeries, her mom conducted her own research and found that skin could be grown in the US.

The laboratory agreed and two 2cm x 6cm pieces of her healthy skin were harvested and sent to Genzyme Laboratories where the cells were laid on mouse cells which were essentially dead but acted as a scaffolding for Pippie’s new skin to grow on.

Spurred on by growth agents, Pippie’s cells multiplied and grew into sheets of skin about 10 cells thick. It looked like clear plastic when it was first put on her burns.

Pippie was kept in an induced coma, splinted and bandaged so that she could not move at all to allow the initial healing to take place. Despite this being an experimental therapy whose long-term effects have not been conclusively shown by trials, the operation has already been hailed as a success.

When the first of the dressings on Pippie came off, they revealed perfect pink skin, with 90 percent of the grafts having taken.

In the seven months that Pippie was in hospital, Anice only went home to Lephalale for three days.

She rented a flat in Melville to be near Pippie and her mother helped her take care of her other child, one-year-old Arno.

The Star