‘They were gone, they were destroyed:’ White Island survivor reveals her horror burns after deadly volcano exploded while she was sight-seeing with her sister and dad
- White Island volcano survivor Stephanie Browitt, 23, has detailed her injuries
- Ms Browitt suffered third-degree-burns to 70 per cent of her body in eruption
- Her sister and father were both killed in the tragedy along with 19 others
- Her finger tips had to be amputated and her legs and back were badly burnt
- She has started YouTube channel to spread awareness about burn victims’ lives
White Island volcano survivor Stephanie Browitt has revealed the full extent of her injuries after suffering horrific third degree burns to 70 per cent of her body.
Ms Browitt is still on the long road to recovery after the December 2019 eruption off the east of New Zealand that claimed the lives of her sister and father.
On Wednesday the 23-year-old from Craigieburn in Melbourne detailed the size and scale of the burns she endured and how they impact her life daily.
She described how much of her fingers had to be amputated after they were severely damaged in the blast.
White Island volcano survivor Stephanie Browitt (pictured) has described the full extent of her injuries in a video on her YouTube channel
‘The tips are gone up to the second joint but I still have all of my thumbs,’ she said in a video on her YouTube channel.
‘They were pretty much black. I saw photos and understood why they had to amputate them, there was no coming back from that, they were gone, they were destroyed.’
Ms Browitt explained she has better functionality with her left hand, as the burns are worse on the right-side of her body.
She can only hold ‘small things’ with her right hand, after the burns ‘left little space between her thumb and index finger’.
Ms Browitt’s legs were severely burnt, but from the ankle down remained unscathed due to the protective footwear she had on.
She said the wounds are worse on her outer thigh, ‘because it was harder for the ash to hit me in between my legs while I was running’.
Ms Browitt (pictured before the White Island eruption) said most of her burns were inflicted when she sat on the smouldering ground as she waited for rescue teams
The Victorian woman shared a picture after her skin graft surgery in July describing the agonising pain she has had to endure during her recovery
The scorching volcanic ash scalded the vast majority of her back, with the exception of a few ‘small patches’.
Surgeons were forced to cut out sections of her skin, leaving her with a ‘dent’ in her back that makes it difficult to perform some tasks.
‘They were so thick, they had to cut away fat and get in deep, so my back is dented and falls in where the burns are,’ she said.
‘Sometimes it gets hard to do things like pick something up off the ground, or hold stretches, because the skin is very tight.’
The young woman said a lot of her burns are from sitting on the smouldering ground after the initial explosion.
‘Our group had to wait for a very long time for rescue, which meant we were waiting on boiling hot ground, rock, and [fallen] ash. I remember it really hurt. I was exhausted and had to try extremely hard not to collapse and put my whole body on the ground because I knew it would make things worse,’ she said.
Along with her feet, her neck, shoulders, scalp, and arms up to the wrist escaped being burnt, while there are a few small burn patches around her chest.
Ms Browitt was reunited with her ‘fur baby’ Arlo in May (pictured) when she returned home after spending six months in hospital
However, some of those areas have injuries from being donor sites for skin grafts used on the other areas of her body.
Ms Browitt said skin from her scalp was taken to use on her face, but her hair is still growing back.
‘It’s not easy seeing my new body,’ she said.
‘The old one is gone and it was overwhelming at the beginning. I won’t ever look the same and I’ve come to terms with that.’
But she remains positive.
‘I don’t see a point in focusing on the negatives because it’s just wasted energy,’ she said.
‘That doesn’t mean that I don’t get sad or cry. But I try not to let myself drown in it.’
Ms Browitt has begun sharing details of her experience and journey to recovery on her YouTube channel to help educate others about what life is like as a burns survivor.
Last week she described the agonising process of undergoing skin grafts and having to learn to walk again.
Ms Browitt suffered third degree burns to 70 per cent of her body in the December, 2019 eruption also and had to have her fingers amputated in June (White Island volcano pictured)
Ms Browitt’s 21-year-old sister Krystal (pictured right) and father Paul were killed along with 19 other tourists when the volcano erupted on December 9, 2019
‘My legs needed multiple surgeries before they were fully covered, so I’d be up and walking (sort of) and then I’d need another surgery and I’d be set back all over again. It was really upsetting,’ she said.
After having more skin taken from her thighs and behind her knee to help heal other areas of her body, Ms Browitt said the pain was almost unbearable.
‘Let me tell you, the donor sites are the most painful things I’ve ever experienced,’ she wrote.
The young woman also recalled a moment she felt at her lowest when a burns nurse told her she would be walking within two days.
‘Me being in such pain angrily saying ”nope”, she goes ”yeah you will” and walks off,’ she wrote.
Ms Browitt said the session began with her struggling to stand with the aid of a walker and nurses.
In June Mr Browitt revealed her fingers had to be amputated (pictured) but said she wasn’t upset about it because of how badly her hands had been injured in the eruption
The 23-year-old survivor (pictured) has been supported by her mother, Maria, who chose to stay back on the cruise ship before the eruption
After struggling through a few steps her frustration boiled over before the burns nurse returned and saw her walking.
‘Honestly when I think of this moment it makes me laugh so much, but it also taught me something,’ she wrote.
‘You can do anything as long as you don’t tell yourself the opposite.’
She has been supported by her mother, Maria, who chose to stay back on the cruise ship rather than visit the island with her husband and daughters.
Ms Browitt’s 21-year-old sister Krystal and father, Paul, were killed along with 19 other people when the volcano erupted on December 9, 2019.
When first responders arrived on the scene after the explosion, Mr Browitt urged them to save his girls before coming back for him.
Krystal was tragically killed in the initial blast, while Mr Browitt died later in hospital.
Ms Browitt has spent the last seven months painstakingly rebuilding her life and recovering in hospital.
Ms Browitt has spent the last seven months painstakingly rebuilding her life and recovering in hospital but said the tragedy still feels like it happened ‘just yesterday’
She said despite the time that has passed, she remembers the eruption like it was ‘just yesterday’.
‘Honestly, every time it’s the ninth of each month I can feel my heart racing and my body tense as the memory of it floods back in my mind,’ Ms Browitt wrote on Instagram.
‘I get anxious. I hate it so much, it does not get easier. It just hurts more and more when I think about how much time has passed since I was last with my dad and sister.’
She said she keeps wishing she could turn back time and at least have looked for her sister and father and sat with them during the aftermath.
‘We’re just picking up the pieces of our new lives and doing the best that we can do.
‘I just want to thank everyone for your kindness, compassion and constant support. You guys manage to put a smile on my face, even if just for a second.’
Ms Browitt (pictured with her father Paul) said despite the time that has passed, she remembers the eruption like it was ‘just yesterday’
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