Tears of joy as White Island survivor comes home
White Island volcano victim Stephanie Browitt has returned home after six months in hospital.
Dozens of family and friends welcomed the 23-year-old back with balloons to her Craigieburn childhood home on Friday.
"I made it," she posted on Instagram on Friday.
Ms Browitt suffered third-degree burns to 70 per cent of her body and lost parts of her fingers when the New Zealand volcano erupted on December 9.
Younger sister Krystal, 21, died on the island while her father, Paul, died in hospital a month later.
Her mother, Marie, cried with joy as her only surviving daughter returned home.
She said she felt Paul and Krystal were watching over the reunion "like angels".
In a message to the Herald Sun, Mrs Browitt said her "beautiful friends" and the Craigieburn community had become her family over the painful six months since Paul and Krystal died.
When Stephanie arrived home late on Friday morning wearing a pressure suit for her severe burns, she couldn't hug her friends because of her fragile skin and COVID-19 social distancing.
Donations helped pay for a special bed for Stephanie and other equipment to allow her to live at home, Mrs Browitt said.
"I'm just so grateful for the generosity of people and for the kindness of our community … and feel very humble," she said.
"I was surrounded by beautiful people today."
A family friend who attended the homecoming, said Ms Browitt was "very strong" mentally and had been supporting her mother through the pain of losing her husband and youngest daughter.
The family was on a "holiday of a lifetime" aboard the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship when Paul, Stephanie and Krystal went on a tour of the island.
A total of 21 people died as a result of the eruption.
Ms Browitt previously posted on Instagram about the day of the tragedy.
View this post on Instagram
On the 4th of Dec 2019, my family left on the #ovationoftheseas to enjoy another family cruise, however we were exploring a new place, New Zealand. Instantly we were enjoying ourselves and laughing at stupid inside jokes we’d made to embarrass each other. We had already stopped at 2 city’s in NZ and explored caves, nature and shops. On the 9th of Dec, we had no idea how our lives would change forever. Dad, Krystal & I visited the #WhiteIsland volcano. It took a 1 hour bus ride & 1 hour Jet boat ride which caused extreme sea sickness, to get there. Something we weren’t warned about before buying tickets by Royal Caribbean. There I took these photos among many more. (Group photos on my sisters phone sadly 😔) Photos that were meant to bring back happy memories in the future of where we had been together. After reaching the crater and having photos taken, we were heading back off the volcano, when at 2:11pm we looked back and saw ash coming out. Not thinking much of it dad said to take a picture. The front tour guide heard us, looked back, and screamed “RUN”. BANG. The WORST moment of my life. It was because of this I lost half of my family. It was because of this I’ve been through so much FUCKING pain with my “donor” sites. It was because of this I still do suffer physically and emotionally. It was because of this, nearly 4 months on I’m still not home. Because of this these photos are no longer good memories, they literally torture me. “Maybe if I wore ...., I’d be less burnt.” “Maybe if we didn’t stop so much, we’d all be here” “If we had only chose the other fucking tour instead....” Maybe if, what if.. blah blah. It’s done and I can’t change it now, but I can change how I choose to move forward. I know people hear this often, but please... keep your loved ones close and always remind them how loved they are. #whakatane #whiteislanderuption #nzeruption #whiteislandvolcano
"We were heading back off the volcano, when at 2.11pm we looked back and saw ash coming out," she wrote.
"Not thinking much of it Dad said to take a picture. The front tour guide heard us, looked back, and screamed 'RUN'."
If you would like to help Stephanie and her family you can follow this link to a gofundme page to donate.
Originally published as Tears of joy as White Island survivor comes home