Pippie’s miracle skin a success

2012-06-19 00:00

“IT’S perfect!” was the reaction of mother Anice Kruger when she saw pictures last night of her daughter Pippie’s transplanted skin.

As the delicate process of removing the bandages a week after the transplant began, Dr Alan Barrett — medical head in South Africa of the company that grew the skin — took pictures on his cellphone and left the theatre to show Anice and Pippie’s father, Erwin.

Anice and Erwin hugged excitedly. “Has Jesus ever disappointed us?” Anice asked her husband.

Theatre staff, including Sister Tilla Opperman, the theatre unit manager, were as excited as Pippie’s parents.

“When they revealed that first bit of skin and we saw how pretty it was, everyone in the theatre applauded. It is beautiful,” she said.

Pippie, who’s real name is Isabella, sustained third-degree burns over 80% of her body on New Year’s Eve when a bottle of fire-starting gel exploded in her father’s hands. A fireball engulfed Pippie some three metres from the braai.

New skin was cloned, using bits of her own skin and mouse cells, at the Genzyme laboratory in Boston, Massachusetts. It was transplanted on to Pippie’s face, head, chest, arms, thighs and back last Monday.

Pippie’s arms had been braced in the “angel-wings position” for the past week and she was kept under light sedation to prevent her moving.

Barrett said her skin was looking better than any the photos they had seen so far.

Because this was the first operation of its kind in South Africa, plastic surgeon Ridwan Mia and his team had consulted and tele-conferenced with doctors in the U.S. for weeks before the operation.

Anice said she did not like Mia much initially, as he would emerge from an operation, “give her a quick speech and then just walk away”.

“I only heard later that he was so overcome with emotion in the theatre that he and another doctor would plan a quick speech, which he would then deliver to me, and then rush away before he got too emotional again.”

In the beginning the nursing staff called Pippie “the patient”, which Anice hated.

“Now they call her ‘Pippie’, ‘Lovey’ and ‘Princess’. They work so softly with her.

“They will never say in front of her what is wrong or what they need to do. If they have to talk in front of her they speak English, which she doesn’t understand,” she said.

Magriet de Vries, a nurse who often cares for Pippie in the high-care unit, commented: “Pippie is here for a purpose. She is here to give others hope.”

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