Jake Milbank and his family are taking it day by day as the young man undergoes frequent surgeries for the injuries he sustained in the eruption at Whakaari/White Island three weeks ago.
Milbank, who turned 19 on the day of the eruption on December 9, was among those critically injured in the event.
He received burns to 80 per cent of his body and is in the intensive care unit of Middlemore Hospital.
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His mum, Janet, and dad, Steve, have been by his side at the hospital and are grateful to all those involved in the rescue and treatment of their son, saying their efforts saved their boy and the lives of other victims of the eruption.
They told the Whakatane Beacon yesterday that they wanted to thank the community, the hospital staff at Whakatane and Middlemore hospitals, the helicopter pilots and the White Island Tours crew.
"Just a big thank you for the amazing job they did getting them off the island, it pretty much saved their lives," Steve Milbank said.
He said he believed a White Island Tours boat skippered by Paul Kingi turned around and headed back to Whakaari/White Island after the eruption.
"They were just five minutes away from White Island; they turned around and came back and got everybody off that they could … The helicopter pilots did an amazing job, too, getting everybody out of there."
He said they were fortunate that the crews were able to save so many people before concerns about health and safety shut the operation down later that evening.
"Any delays in getting [Jake] off the island … that would have been it, so we are just so thankful to everybody involved, the ambos, the coastguard, doctors, everybody I mean what they did at Whakatāne, getting everybody prepped up and sent all over the country. There were helicopters flying solidly all night that night shifting people around the country. The whole combined effort was just incredible."
Mr Milbank said his gratitude also went to the Australian burns surgeons who had been brought to Middlemore to operate on his son and the other patients burnt in the eruption.
"The staff here at Middlemore hospital have just been incredible," Janet Milbank said.
"Just like at Whakatane Hospital, people gave up their holiday because there were so many patients. Their efforts have been just outstanding," Mr Milbank said.
"He is doing as good as we could hope for with the injuries he has got," he said of his son.
"He is still in ICU, so we are still taking it day by day but the longer it goes on the more hopeful we are. He is recovering as well as anyone could expect to because he is young, and he is fit."
He said Jake was awake and talking to them.
"He is still going for operations every few days, some skin grafts, but because he has got very little skin it is going to be a long, slow process, but he is going in to have all his dressings changed and cleaned and checked."
"They are checking the work that they have done already, making sure there is no infection and tidying him up," Mrs Milbank said.
They said the donor skin brought in from the US and elsewhere was used during the early days by surgeons, but now the surgeries were shifting towards the grafting of the patients' own skin.
"Jake is in a special, pressurised, temperature-controlled pod," Mrs Milbank said.
"He knows exactly what has happened. He is generally a pretty upbeat, positive guy, but I guess he has got a lot going on in his mind, but he is taking it in his stride."
Although it was early days, Mr Milbank said the doctors were impressed with how their son was coping.
"He is bloody amazing really … he has blown us away," he said.
"But it is early stages; it is going to be a long road. We are taking it one day at a time. He is not out of the woods, he is still in ICU, so we are still plugging away day-by-day.
He said physiotherapists were working on Jake. "Just trying to stretch his limbs and keeping him a bit mobile and making sure [he doesn't] seize up … they are doing a massive job, the staff here at Middlemore are just fantastic."
The Milbanks are also keeping Jake's friends up to date on his condition.
"His older sister [Bec] did some admin work for him the other night, answered messages on his phone for him, so he has been able to indirectly communicate with his friends," Mrs Milbank said.
"He has been getting letters and cards sent to the hospital from people in Whakatane, some of them we don't even know," Mr Milbank said.
He said they were also thankful for the support received through a Givealittle page set up by a family friend, which has raised $126,000.
"The messages especially, we have been reading some of them out to Jake … people around the world who are sending those awesome messages to him and that has been really good for him.
"They certainly helped me in those first few days," Mrs Milbank said.
She said the past few weeks had been a roller coaster. "We have had good support around us with friends and family and they have really helped us to get through it all as well."
- Whakatane Beacon