A White Island volcano survivor who lost her sister and father in the tragedy has revealed why an Australia Day 21-gun salute left her ‘crying and shaking in fear’.
Stephanie Browitt, 24, was touring the island with her sister Krystal, 21, and their father Paul when the volcano erupted off the coast of Whakatane in New Zealand on December 9, 2019.
The 24-year-old survived with third-degree burns to 70 per cent of her body and lost parts of her fingers, but her father and sister were among the 22 people killed.
White Island survivor Stephanie Coral (pictured) suffered third-degree burns to 70 per cent of her body and lost parts of her fingers
Stephanie has urged others who have suffered from any form of trauma to seek help
Now more than a year later, the young woman revealed how even the most unexpected things can trigger her post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘Last Tuesday was a horrid day for both mum and myself. Unfortunately we weren’t warned of or knew of the 21 canon salute to commemorate Australia Day,’ she said.
‘The loud noises and strong smoke set off my PTSD and I was left crying as past memories flooded my mind.’
The commotion left her shaking in fear as she held onto her mum for protection.
‘It took me awhile for me to ground myself back in reality and realise I was completely safe’, she said.
Despite thinking she didn’t have the symptoms of PTSD, Stephanie said the most surprising things set her off.
‘It’s a huge reminder that even though I believe I’m ok, I still have a lot of mental and emotional trauma to work through and that’s okay.’
Stephanie shared how the loud noises and strong smoke from Australia Day celebrations triggered her PTSD from the White Island volcano eruption in December 2019
The 24-year-old reassured others that have suffered from any trauma, that it’s normal to seek out help as they deserve to feel okay.
The Whakaari volcanic eruption claimed the lives of 22 people including 14 Australians in December 2019.
The blast happened as tours to White Island were taking place and despite warnings of a risk of eruption.
The loud noises and strong smoke from the 21 canon salute on Australia Day in Melbourne left Stephanie in tears
Over Christmas, she shared an emotional photo with friends that was taken on Boxing Day 2019 – two days after she woke up.
‘The last two days as I was slowly coming to was ‘horrible’, mum said. I was extremely delirious, suffered from flashbacks, didn’t know where I was and had no comprehension of my situation,’ Ms Browitt wrote.
‘On the 24th of December, that finally stopped. I was awake, in so much pain and unable to move but awake! I started talking to my mum properly and was able to get a basic understanding of my current situation.’
24-year-old Stephanie (pictured) has encouraged others to seek help as they ‘deserve to feel okay’
She said upon learning her father was in the ICU next door, she found out her mother and friends had visited her each day in hospital.
‘Unexplainable’ joy is what she said she felt during the first time she saw her mum since the disaster.
‘The thoughts that went through my mind whilst waiting for help on the 9th of December, was that ”I had to survive for mum”,’ she said.
Marie Browitt (left with her family) was the only member of the family to stay on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship when the tragedy struck
”’Mum won’t survive without us, I have to hold on for her.” I made it for mum and all I wanted was for her to stay by my side, which she did always.’
Two days after she woke up from her coma, Ms Browitt was allowed to be briefly taken out of her room and out onto the ICU floor.
Staring out a hospital window surrounded by her two best friends, she said that despite what had happened to her she was simply happy to be alive.
‘I couldn’t move, eat or do anything really but I was so happy to be awake and I promise you under those bandages in this photo I was smiling,’ she said.
Ms Browitt has become a beacon of inspiration for those who have experienced trauma in their lives, and regularly shares update of her road to recovery.
Ms Browitt has become a beacon of inspiration for those who have experienced trauma in their lives, and regularly shares update of her road to recovery
She revealed she looks forward to the treatment, because ‘it’s one step closer to not needing it’.
Stephanie explained the laser treatment stimulates scar regeneration by creating microscopic holes in the tissue.
It will also hopefully improve the functional ability and mobility of the scar tissue, while also improving the appearance.
Stephanie is seen with her sister Krystal. Tragically Krystal was killed in the blast on December 9, 2019
The ultimate goal is that the treatment will reduce some of the redness on Ms Browitt’s face and flatten raised sections – though she understands it will never entirely get rid of it.
‘This will be quite an ongoing thing for me in the long term as I cannot do all of my burns areas at once,’ she explained.
Ms Browitt’s mother Marie was the only member of the family to stay on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship when the tragedy struck.