Tears as Pippie leaves 'home'
When Isabella "Pippie" Kruger left Netcare Garden City Hospital yesterday to start rehabilitation, even the waitresses from the hospital coffee shop broke into applause for the three-year-old who survived despite only being given a 10% chance to live after being burned in a freak accident.
Pippie has spent the past six months in the intensive care unit after she suffered burns to 80% of her body when a gel fire-lighter exploded in her father's hands on New Year's Eve.
Yesterday, she was well enough to be discharged and transported by ambulance to the Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. She is expected to spend three to six months in rehabilitation. Pippie's recovery so far has already been called a "miracle" by doctors and her family.
Three-and-a-half weeks ago, Pippie was covered in bandages, and sedated to keep her still after a ground-breaking operation in which several sheets of skin grown in a Boston, US, laboratory were grafted onto her body.
Now that some of Pippie's bandages have come off, not only does she have new skin but a big appetite. She spent about 30 minutes eating porridge, chocolate-flavoured custard and yoghurt yesterday morning.
"She eats like an ox," said her father, Erwin Kruger, proudly.
"As the body is healing, it needs minerals to progress."
Feeding her breakfast one last time yesterday, intensive care unit nurse Simphiwe Mabaso, who has cared for Pippie every day for six months, looked close to tears.
"I am sad, so sad," he said, after he wished the little girl goodbye.
Pippie's doctor, head of the paediatric intensive care unit, Dr Miles Bartlett, said: "The nurse becomes bonded to the patients. They feel like it's their child. I always remind them it's not our child."
Pippie and her mother, Anice, had "become like family [to the hospital staff]", said Bartlett.
He said Anice, who remained at her daughter's side for six months, had virtually become the matron of the ward and knew all the stories of the patients there.
Bartlett said he was "both sad and happy" to bid goodbye to Pippie and her mother.
When Anice arrived at the hospital yesterday morning to get Pippie ready and say goodbye, she said she "felt sad" to leave her "home".
But her husband, Erwin, was "elated".
"I just feel happiness as its another step forward for Pippie. Every step forward is another step closer to home."
Pippie's plastic surgeon, Dr Ridwan Mia, who will continue to treat her at the new hospital, said he thought she would do well in rehabilitation.
"I turned her on her tummy on Monday night and gave her a bit of physiotherapy. I wanted her to start getting used to very intensive exercise. She will work hard healing," he said. "The rehabilitation will make everything we have done [to get her well] worthwhile."
During rehabilitation, speech therapists will help Pippie learn to speak again, and swallow better, to correct the damage the flames caused to her throat. She has also been in bed for six months, so her muscles need to regain enough strength so that she can sit up and, it is hoped, walk.