'There are no words when a miracle like this happens'
Pippie Kruger's advanced skin graft operation was declared a success last night after a painstaking procedure to remove the bandages covering the burned toddler's skin.
"We are happy to say the operation was a success," said Doctor Ridwan Mia, the plastic surgeon who performed the operation on the three-year-old at the Netcare Garden City Hospital last week.
"Slightly over 90% of the skin graft has taken, while there are small islands that have not taken. But skin will grow in from surrounding areas," said Mia.
He said the graft was still fragile but blood supply to the toddler's skin was developing.
"We are now putting splints in place to keep her in position and hopefully we can move to the next phase of rehabilitation," he said, adding that he hoped Pippie's rehabilitation - which would include speech and occupational therapy as well as physiotherapy - could begin by the middle of next week.
If all goes well, she could be discharged in two or three weeks.
Mia said they would slowly start waking Pippie this week. "The idea is to get her moving and start weaning her off the ventilator."
Pippie's mother, Anice Kruger, was with her daughter at the beginning of the marathon procedure last night, while her father, Ernie, waited anxiously outside.
At 6.30pm the medical staff came out to show them the first picture of the procedure. "It's completely mended and there is no indication of infection. First one perfect, 28 more [dressings] to go," said Anice. "There are no words a parent can say when a miracle like this happens. I'm blessed."
Erwin Kruger said he was excited, but "it also feels like a calmness has come over me".
Pippie sustained third-degree burns to 80% of her body at a braai on New Year's Eve and has been in hospital ever since.
She was sedated throughout the procedure.
Last week, about 40 pieces of skin grown in the US from samples taken from her body were grafted onto her back, face, chest, arms and legs. The cultivated skin had a 24-hour shelf life and was rushed to Garden City after a 21-hour flight from Boston.
Scientists at Sanofi Biosurgery, in Boston, where the skin was grown, told the Sunday Times that Pippie had become the first African to have a "quilt of her own skin".