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South African girl's skin graft successful so far

From Errol Barnett, CNN
June 19, 2012 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • First-of-its-kind South African skin graft appears to be taking, a spokeswoman says
  • Doctors hope to wake 3-year-old Isabella "Pippi" Kruger by Thursday
  • She had third-degree burns on 80% of her body, and complications are still possible
  • She could be well enough for physical therapy next week, the spokeswoman says

Johannesburg (CNN) -- A novel skin graft treatment appears to be working for a 3-year-old South African girl burned over 80% of her body in January, a spokeswoman for her family said Tuesday.

A medical team led by reconstructive surgeon Ridwan Mia spent four hours Monday night removing wrappings from Isabella "Pippi" Kruger's body, according to spokeswoman Ilze Rabie. They found that 90% of the skin graft -- cloned in a U.S. laboratory and then rushed to South Africa last week -- appears to be taking, she said.

The little girl, who was burned in a New Year's Eve barbecuing accident at home, remains sedated, said Rabie, who is representing the family and Genzyme, the Boston company that produced the cloned skin graft that's being used to treat her.

The plan is to gradually wake Pippi and remove her from a ventilator by Thursday, Rabie said.

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While complications and other setbacks remain a possibility, Rabie said Pippi could be well enough to begin physical therapy and rehabilitation by next week.

Pippi's ordeal began on New Year's Eve when she was playing outside as her father, Erwin Kruger, prepared a barbeque using a highly flammable liquid gel. As he lit the gel, its container exploded and covered Pippi's small body.

She screamed as her skin burned and "bubbled," according to her mother, Anice Kruger.

The toddler suffered third-degree burns on 80% of her body. Afterward, she was struck with four cardiac arrests, kidney failures, collapsed lungs and multiple infections.

Her critical condition eventually stabilized under the care of Mia and others at the Netcare Garden City Hospital in Johannesburg. But the Krugers were uncomfortable with their options for healing her skin: temporarily using skin from a cadaver or from a pig, or taking her small portion of undamaged skin and grafting it elsewhere.

"Please don't take the perfect skin, just give me a week to find something else," Anice Kruger begged of Mia.

After days on the Internet and hours reaching out to reconstructive specialists in the United States, Pippi's mother discovered Genzyme, whose specialty is growing layers of human skin by cloning a 2-square-centimeter sample from a patient.

Doctors in the United States performed the process -- called a cultured epidermal autograft -- more than 100 times in last year, according to Genzyme. However, because the new skin must be administered within 24 hours of leaving the lab, the procedure hasn't been attempted much farther away. It had never before been attempted in South Africa.

The procedure, which is being covered by local medical coverage and donations, cost $82,000.

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