Badly burnt girl gets her skin back
Fewer than 1000 people have had the operation that three-year-old Pippie Kruger underwent at Netcare Garden City Hospital last night.
Eighty percent of Pippie's body was severely burnt in December when a gel firelighter exploded in her father's hands while he was lighting a braai fire.
Her "fighting spirit" is one of the reasons she is still alive, according to plastic surgeon Dr Ridwan Mia.
Mia said much of Pippie's skin was damaged, making it difficult for doctors to take skin from one part of her body and graft it onto the burned area.
As a result, the once bubbly toddler became the first South African to receive the treatment, in which her own skin was grown for her in a laboratory in Boston, US .
Three weeks ago doctors sent two skin grafts measuring 2cmx6cm to the US, where they were multiplied into 41 sheets of 50cmx50cm - enough skin to cover her body.
Dr Sven Kili ofSanofi, a company that grew the skin, flew into South Africa yesterday to assist with the operation.
He said the procedure would save Pippie years of operations.
All her burns were expected to be covered during last night's operation .
Pippie has spent the past six months in the hospital's intensive care unit and even celebrated her third birthday with a party in hospital on Saturday.
A few hours before the operation, her mother, Anice Kruger, said: "I am beyond excited. I feel like I am gonna pop."
Kili said only about 100 to 150 patients worldwide have had the operation each year as it was very expensive even though the arm of the company that grew the skin did not make a profit.
"It is personalised medical care at its best," he said.
The total cost of Pippie's skin was almost R730000.
The cost of transporting the skin alone was R250000 as it was brought by a courier on a plane and even had its own seat.
This is because the skin has to be used within 24 hours of leaving the laboratory and remain in similar laboratory-type conditions while being transported.
Kili said the skin grafted onto Kruger's body was about four cells thick. The skin on a person's hand is about 500 cells thick.
Mia described it as slightly thicker than cling wrap and almost as translucent.
Doctors will know in seven to 10 days if the skin has grown onto Pippie's body.