Indian-origin doctor in S Africa performs first skin transplant

Johannesburg: An Indian-origin plastic surgeon in South Africa has led a breakthrough surgery, saving the life of a 3-year-old burn victim by transplanting skin cloned from her own cells in a US lab.

Ridwan Mia, who led a team that undertook the first of its kind operation on the African continent, is being hailed as a hero in the country.

Pippie Kruger, the burn survivor was operated at a hospital here last week.

After a week of cautious optimism before removing the bandages holding the skin onto the frail infant`s body were removed yesterday, Mia declared the procedure a success.

"I must admit there was more anxiety last night than there was when we grafted the skin on. There was a lot of pressure with not just the family but the rest of the world watching and waiting to hear the results," Mia told PTI.

The toddler suffered burns all over her body in a freak accident when a bottle of flammable liquid exploded in her father Erwin`s hands during a barbecue on New Year`s Eve at the end of last year.

Doctors had initially given Pippie a 10 per cent chance of survival, but her mother Anice researched the possibility of growing skin from her daughter`s own skin cells in a Boston laboratory and persevered with the idea.

Mia confirmed this morning that 90 per cent of the skin had taken to Pippie`s body.

"She`s an absolutely amazing little girl with such a strong spirit," Mia said.

The skin which was grown in a Boston lab had to be transplanted within 24 hours and was rushed from there by special arrangements in a special container.

"The process was very similar to when we graft skin onto people using their own skin, but called for extra care because these lab grafts were very fragile and very thin, much thinner than your normal skin grafts," Mia said.

"We had a number of teleconferences with the manufacturing company`s doctors, almost like having online tutorials before the operation. It gave us the opportunity of honing our own skills in South Africa".

Mia said the exercise was an extremely expensive one, but the South African community at large had rallied round to provide support to the family to ensure its success.

"We are hoping that this has opened the door for other hospitals and other patients to bring down the costs, especially since the cost is currently very prohibitive. I have had calls from all over the country and even from colleagues abroad enquiring about it," he said.