A young woman who survived the White Island volcano disaster has revealed how 12 strangers gave her a life-changing gift for which she will be forever grateful.
Stephanie Browitt, 25, was exploring the island with sister Krystal, 21, and their father Paul when a volcano erupted off the coast of Whakatane in New Zealand in December 2019.
She suffered third-degree burns to 70 per cent of her body and was in a coma for three weeks, but her father and sister were among the 22 killed.
Ms Browitt’s mother Marie was the only member of the family to stay on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship and watched in horror as the volcano erupted.
Stephanie Browitt, 25, (pictured) was with her sister Krystal, 21, and their father Paul when a volcano erupted off the coast of Whakatane in New Zealand in December 2019
In an interview with 60 Minutes, Ms Browitt explained how 12 perfect strangers saved her life by generously donating their skin.
‘I was very severely injured, very severely burnt and I knew that because I could tell my body was shutting down on me,’ she said.
‘That gift means everything to me, they gave me my life.
‘Every day I think of that and how my life was dependent on that donation being available.’
The donations allowed Ms Browitt to have numerous excruciating but life-saving skin graft surgeries at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.
However, a shortage of skin donors when the young woman arrived at the hospital meant doctors were forced to rely on tissue from the other side of the world.
In an interview with 60 Minutes Ms Browitt revealed how 12 perfect strangers saved her life by generously donating their skin
Skin donations from 12 perfect strangers allowed Ms Browitt to undergo multiple life-saving skin graft surgeries at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne
Ms Browitt explained the majority of the tissue came from the US, a similar story for the victims of the Black Saturday bushfires and the Bali bombings.
She said donor skin needed to be readily available in Australia to ensure those affected by such catastrophic events have another shot at life.
DonateLife chief executive Lucinda Barry said the number of people requiring skin donations skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Barry explained border closures and crowded intensive care units made the already difficult process of donation almost logistically impossible.
‘We’ve seen a 16 per cent decrease in the number of organ donors which has meant a 12 per cent decrease in the number of people receiving a transplant,’ she said.
Ms Barry said around 150 fewer people received a kidney transplant in 2020.
A shortage of skin donors when the young woman arrived at the hospital, meant doctors were forced to rely on tissue from the other side of the world, namely from the United States
Ms Browitt has candidly shared her lengthy recovery process with the world by posting updates for her followers on her social media accounts
Ms Browitt candidly shared her lengthy recovery process with the world by posting regular updates on her social media accounts.
The 25-year-old recently promoted DonateLife Week on her Instagram and encouraged her 58,000 followers to become organ donors.
‘I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the organ and tissue donors of others,’ she wrote.
‘Thanks to multiple people who donated their skin, they saved my life. I never predicted that my life would be in the hands of strangers, yet it happened.
‘My body and my life is a testament to the kind decision of several strangers. Without those compassionate people I wouldn’t be alive today.’
When asked what she would say to the families of those who donated their life-saving tissue, Ms Browitt was lost for words.
The 25-year-old recently raised awareness of DonateLife Week on her Instagram and encouraged her 58,000 followers to become organ donors
‘I don’t think anything I could say could express my gratitude enough, there are no words. I couldn’t be more grateful, more thankful,’ she said.
Ms Browitt described registering as an organ donor as one of the most ‘rewarding’ and ‘beautiful’ decisions a person could make.
‘You’re giving someone the gift of life and that’s one of the most precious things you could ever do, how could it get better than that?’ she said.
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.