Home at last for Pippie

2013-08-18 14:00

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Doctors said she’d end up a vegetable, but the five-year-old fighter is now well enough to go back to the family farm

A smiling Pippie Kruger looks up as her mother and I walk through the door and she calls out “Mama!”

Hugging her daughter on her lap, Anice asks her: “Waar is Papa?” The little girl’s eyes light up, she smiles, looks around and says “Papa!”

A normal interaction between a mother and child, perhaps, but not for Pippie.

Not long ago, specialists predicted that she would never smile, her voice would never be heard and her hands would never reach out to a loved one.

“They said she would never recover and would just be a vegetable,” says Anice. “But look at her now”.

Pippie’s exuberant personality forces one to look past her scars. She suffered third-degree burns to 80% of her body after a container of fire-lighting gel exploded and enveloped her on New Year’s Eve in 2011.

Doctors gave her a 10% chance of survival. She suffered a series of strokes, during which she suffered brain damage and had to be resuscitated four times in her first few months in hospital. But she flatly refused to die.

Pippie became the first South African recipient of revolutionary skin graft technology in which the new skin was grown from her own cells. Her slow and painful road to healing began.

Anice moved from the family farm in Lephalale, Limpopo to Johannesburg to be closer to her daughter. The city has served as their home for more than a year.

Her husband, Erwin, continued farming and Pippie’s baby brother, Arno, remained behind with his grandparents.

At the end of next month they will finally be going home.

Pippie’s progress has been nothing short of miraculous. This week, she was able to speak, sit upright on her own and stand up against a table. She’s also fond of stringing large beads on a rope.

She has the nose of any cute five-year-old and clear skin around the rest of her body is pushing back scar tissue.

Most remarkably, the skin on Pippie’s ears is also healing beautifully.

“Even the holes for studs in her ears have reappeared,” says Anice, showing off Pippie’s brand new ears with their dangling earrings.

The little girl has also become something of a celebrity after the launch of her biography this week. Last week she and Anice flew to Cape Town for the launch and the little girl has been revelling in all the attention, unfazed by the throngs of people.

“Gagga” (gross) is Pippie’s comment on Cape Town. “It’s because it was cold and rained,” laughs Anice.

Now they will be going home to sunny Lephalale.

Pippie’s family will swap houses with her grandparents, who live on the same farm. The larger house was adapted for Pippie’s rehabilitation needs, with a gym and heated salt water pool where other burn victims can come for treatment.

“We really want to help other parents who are going through a similar ordeal,” says Anice.

Despite all the good news, Anice remains realistic about the challenges that lie ahead.

For the foreseeable future, they will have to spend a week each month in Johannesburg for specialised rehabilitation.

And just as Pippie needs to heal, so too does the family that stood beside her.

“Eighteen months away from everybody does take its toll,” says Anice. She and Erwin work on their marriage by going on date nights now and again.

Pippie’s brother Arno, who remained behind with his grandparents, adores Pippie and is very protective of her, says Anice. “He wants to hold her, he wants to bathe her, he wants to give her her bottle.”

Pippie mimics what he does.

“He loves to fall off his bike, shouting ‘val’ (fall). The other day Pippie fell from the bed and also said ‘val’,” laughs Anice.

Anice’s bond with little Arno is very strong. “It is as if we have never been apart.”

And Erwin’s bond with Pippie is just as solid.

“When he is around, she only has eyes for him. Then I do not count at all,” says Anice.

Pippie is looking forward to going home because her dog is there, and she was given a small pony to help with her rehabilitation. But most of all she is looking forward to getting down and dirty in the sandpit, like any other kid her age. This was unimaginable a year ago.

“But we will have to play when it’s dark. Pippie’s not allowed in the sun,” says Anice.

When I leave, Pippie smiles and extends her little burnt hands and arms to me. The red nail polish on her small fingers brings a lump to my throat – not from pity, but from admiration for one of God’s very special creatures.

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