"Without it, I would have died when I was nine," wrote Simonsen, whose story has dominated Italian newspapers and television reports.
Animals that have sacrificed their lives for medicine (slideshow)
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One anti-vivisection activist responded on Facebook. "You could die tomorrow. I wouldn't sacrifice my goldfish for you." Another commented: "If you had died as a child, no-one would have given a damn."
Shocked by the tone of the messages, Simonsen, who has a respiratory illness requiring her to be attached to oxygen tubes, made a video that was played repeatedly on national media on Sunday.
"I want to get a degree so that I can help save animals," she said, speaking while wearing an oxygen mask. She has several dogs and is studying to be a veterinarian at the University of Bologna.
"I have received messages saying that the lives of 10 rats are more important than mine. I don't know what planet these people live on and who raised them," she said, breaking into tears. "I am alive thanks to doctors, to medicines and to animals who had to be sacrificed."
Her mother told an Italian newspaper she had received messages of support on Facebook and Twitter from around the world, including one from Matteo Renzi, the popular centre-left leader widely expected to be a future prime minister.
(Picture: Caterina Simonsen, from Facebook)
- Braai day se ma se *^&% ! – animal rights activists sidelined on Braai Day
- Caterina Simonsen on Facebook; also view the video – in Italian
What are your thoughts on animal testing, if it can save lives? Let us know in the comments.