A survivor of the White Island volcano tragedy has credited her mother and dead sister’s boyfriend for getting her through the worst of her recovery.
Stephanie Browitt was permanently disfigured in the devastating blast, which took the lives of her younger sister Krystal and father Paul last December.
The trio were touring White Island in New Zealand with a group from their cruise ship when a volcano erupted, killing 21.
The 24-year-old has been open in sharing her recovery, which has included several skin grafts and amputations to her fingers.
On Tuesday, Miss Browitt said her sister Krystal’s boyfriend and ‘soul mate’ had helped her every step of the way in her recovery so far.
‘Daniel was at the hospital as much as mum… He would stay for hours everyday and leave as late as 10pm sometimes,’ she revealed.
Miss Browitt said he was a constant source of laughter and amusement during her long stint in hospital, and did ‘everything he could to make my stay bearable’.
‘I know my sister would be so proud and so happy to know that Daniel was by my side every day… If I needed help with my food, cutting my meat or opening sauce packets, he would do it,’ she said.
‘The hospital would never provide me with enough tomato sauce or Vegemite, so he’d buy me jars of it… He bought my speaker to play music.
‘My mum and Daniel are the two people who kept me going when I didn’t want to, who lifted my spirits when I was down and in pain.’
Every night, her mother would visit the hospital and sit by her side, travelling the two hours each way from the family home to The Alfred, where she was treated.
‘She wrote up a poster so that I could have it read to me every night as a reminder of her love and to give me strength,’ Miss Browitt revealed, sharing a photograph of the touching note.
‘You are my every breath, my strength, my heart, my beautiful angel. I love you with all that I am. You are my everything. Your smile lights up my entire world.’
Miss Browitt said it was the positive energy of both her mother and Daniel that gave her the strength to ‘keep fighting everyday to come home and be better’.
The 24-year-old suffered burns to 70 per cent of her body and had her fingers amputated.
She now wears a full face mask to protect her mottled skin and has been cooped up in her mother’s Craigieburn home in Melbourne for the last eight months.
During her time in isolation, her home state was plunged into a second lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19 .
Last week, Miss Browitt urged people struggling in isolation to enjoy spending time with their loved ones.
‘As someone who is grieving deeply and has essentially been in lockdown since early December… I truly believe that focusing on what you can’t change is wasted energy that could be used elsewhere,’ she told The Herald Sun.
Victorian police have been battling with Melbournians to enforce Stage 4 lockdown.
Miss Browitt said it was okay for residents to feel upset and isolated as virus cases soar, but added that she would do anything to have her father and sister in lockdown with her.
‘I feel as though people don’t realise how precious time is and that you don’t often get the chance to be with family like this.’
While she has had essential surgeries cancelled as a result of the pandemic, she reminded Victorians that lockdown will pass with ‘patience and perseverance’.
Her mother Marie, whose immune system is compromised fighting autoimmune diseases multiple sclerosis and Lupus, believed COVID-19 could kill her.
As the 24-year-old’s only surviving parent, Miss Browitt would be forced into a nursing home if anything happened to her mother.
‘There are people out there ignoring laws designed to protect their own family’s survival. I can’t comprehend it,’ Marie said.
The heartbroken mother said the pair still cry for Paul and Krystal daily, but joined her daughter in encouraging Victorians to be proud that they can stay home and protect their loved ones.
Krystal, 21, and 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.
Miss Browitt spent seven months painstakingly rebuilding her life and recovering in hospital.
She previously said despite the time that 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.’