Warning: Contains graphic content
Six months after the eruption of White Island which killed 21 people and left him with life-changing injuries, teenage guide Jake Milbank has revealed what kept him going in the moments after the disaster and shared just how far he has come.
The Bay of Plenty volcano erupted beneath Jake Milbank and members of his party on December 9, his 19th birthday.
Forty-seven people were on the island at the time of the violent eruption which left many others with critical injuries.
In the aftermath, battling horrific burns, Milbank endured a 90-minute trip back to the mainland on a tour boat.
"You know what you've gotta do to survive and that's all I was really thinking about doing at the time," he told MediaWorks.
"[I was] just trying to stay awake, and constantly reminding myself, and having others around me reminding me, that we were nearly back and it was all gonna be all good."
Milbank was in hospital for four months, two weeks of which he spent in a coma. He underwent 25 separate surgeries to repair his skin, receiving treatment from a team of world-class medical staff.
"It's definitely been a challenge, but I mean, all it's really gonna do is build character," he told MediaWorks.
"There's nothing I can do about it except try my hardest to get back to where I was before the eruption, there's no point at looking at it negatively."
Milbank is now undergoing intensive rehabilitation to regain basic movements, but hopes to soon get back to fishing and hunting with his mates.
"Every day you notice, 'Oh I can take my sock off a little bit further' or something like that, it is pretty cool to see," he said.
From his home in Whakatāne he can stand on the beach and look at White Island on the horizon – and, despite everything, he would like to go back.
"It does send shivers down the spine a little bit, gives you the goosebumps," he said. "I wouldn't get too close, but yeah I definitely would like to go and have another look."
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He has been back at home and in isolation since early April, when he first shared details of his remarkable recovery on social media
"116 long days ago, my life, along with many others, was changed forever," he posted on Instagram on April 3.
"During my time in hospital I managed to rack up a whopping 25 trips to the operating room and, I must say, my surgeons have done a remarkable job.
"I was told that when it came to possible infections, it wasn't a matter of if, but rather when."
Milbank said he was fortunate to go the entire 116 days without "a single infection or setback".
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116 long days ago, my life, along with many others was changed forever. During my time in hospital I managed to rack up a whopping 25 trips to the operating room, and I must say, my surgeons have done a remarkable job. I was told that when it came to possible infections, it wasn't a matter of if, but rather when. I was fortunate enough to go this entire time without a single infection or setback, which is absolutely amazing. When I was first admitted to hospital my family were told that I could be in intensive care for at least 3 to 4 months, and that my stay in hospital could go on as long as six months or more. After almost 4 months of operations, physiotherapy, and loads of moisturisation, I'm happy to say that today, my stay in hospital is finally coming to an end! To be able to walk out of hospital in less than four months after sustaining 80% burns is almost unheard of, and I owe it all to my amazing team of doctors, nurses, Physios and occupational therapists for getting me out in what must be almost record time. But most of all I owe it to my family, who have been with me every step of the way, assisting me with my cares and my every need. I also have to thank my friends, for always visiting me and keeping me sane during this long, hard time. To everyone In New Zealand and all around the world who have been showing me their ongoing love and support, I cannot thank you enough. You have all given me the strength and encouragement I needed, to keep working hard, and striving for the best possible outcome. I still have a very long road ahead in terms of my rehabilitation and recovery, but with the help of my family and friends as well as worldwide support I know I will get there one day. It is a shame to be going out of almost 4 months isolation, straight back in to isolation, but it is just good to be home.
- Additional reporting, News.com.au