Twenty-eight strangers helped save Kelsey Waghorn's life after the volcano below her feet erupted.

The tour guide was among 47 people on Whakaari/White Island when steam, rock and ash exploded from the volcano's crater, taking 21 lives and leaving many survivors - including Waghorn - with devastating burns.

Six months on Waghorn has a message for those who, in her words, gave up an hour of their lives - donating blood - so she could keep hers.

"I want to say a heartfelt thank you to all blood donors – you saved my life."

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Still, words felt inadequate.

"Thank you doesn't seem to be big enough," Waghorn said, as she spoke of her gratitude in support of the New Zealand Blood Service, which is marking World Blood Donor Day tomorrow.

"I'm only here today because of their selfless act of donating. I'll always be thankful to everyone who dropped what they were doing to 'just donate blood'.

"It means so much more to the people who need it, and their loved ones, than I think anyone else realises."

Tourists are rescued from White Island following last December's eruption. Photo / Michael Schade
Tourists are rescued from White Island following last December's eruption. Photo / Michael Schade

Waghorn, clad only in shorts, T-shirt and hiking boots when White Island erupted, received full-thickness burns to 45 per cent of her body. Full thickness burns, also known as third-degree burns, extend to all layers of the skin.

Her chemical burns - where the gases and ash reacted with the water - put her in hospital for 65 days, including 10 in intensive care, during half of which she was in an induced coma.

The 26-year-old has endured 14 surgeries, including for skin grafts to her arms, legs, hands and lower back, with more to come.

Her 28 transfusions of blood and blood products included 20 red blood cell transfusions and eight plasma transfusions. She also received 464 square centimetres of skin from dead donors, supplied by the blood service.

Fourteen others burned in the eruption received, with Waghorn, a total of 751 units of blood and blood products from 751 donors. One patient was given a massive 222 units of blood and blood products.

Her partner, Tom, had already donated blood in response to the help Waghorn received, and she hoped others would be encouraged to do the same.

"Definitely do it. There's heaps of information on the NZBS website, so if you have doubts or questions, have a look there.

"I'm a massive sook when it comes to needles - always have been - and the past six months haven't exactly helped. But, once I am actually able to, I will be heading along to donate blood."

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After leaving hospital in March, she was continuing to physically heal "really well" and now had near full range of motion of all her grafted joints.

"So far, there isn't a lot I have found that I can't do."

She was also, with support, meeting challenges beyond the physical.

"Mentally, things are catching up. I've had flashbacks and been triggered a couple of times, and that's been really scary.

"But I have an incredible team of therapists who have been so sweet and so helpful in all aspects of my rehab."

This week, fellow survivors of the eruption spoke of their anger towards the organisers of tours to the volcano - New Zealand's most active - and at authorities for not mounting an immediate rescue.

Stephanie Browitt, who suffered burns to 70 per cent of her body and lost parts of her fingers in the eruption, told Australian current affairs programme Four Corners she was "very angry" it took so long for help to come.

A tourist on a boat next to White Island filmed the scene as the volcano erupted. Photo / Allessandro Kauffman
A tourist on a boat next to White Island filmed the scene as the volcano erupted. Photo / Allessandro Kauffman

The 23-year-old was rescued by local helicopter tour pilots after authorities stayed away immediately after the disaster. Her sister Krystal died on White Island, and their father Paul died in hospital a month later.

"It was just three pilots who chose to risk their own lives to help us and if they hadn't come, we'd all be gone," Browitt said.

"If help had come sooner, there would probably be more people alive."

The Browitts were among 38 Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas cruise ship passengers on a day trip to the island.

White Island Tours' guides only told the group the volcano was at alert level two, the highest it could be before an eruption, once they were on the island, and they didn't sign waivers when booking the tour through Ovation of the Seas either, Browitt told Four Corners.

Some passengers and victims' relatives are taking legal action against the cruise ship operator.

They include Americans Matt and Lauren Urey, honeymooners who suffered serious burns in the eruption. A lawsuit would be filed against White Island Tours and Royal Caribbean this month, their lawyer said.

Waghorn told the Herald she remembered the eruption and its aftermath, but won't talk about it publicly until investigations are completed.

Police, on behalf of the coroner, and WorkSafe are investigating.

Kelsey Waghorn, pictured before the eruption, says she's been dealt an awful hand - but she had to keep going forward. Photo / Supplied
Kelsey Waghorn, pictured before the eruption, says she's been dealt an awful hand - but she had to keep going forward. Photo / Supplied

Waghorn is unsure what the future holds, but her passion for the outdoors remained.

"At this stage, I don't have any plans. I'm going to be out of work for awhile, and at this stage, my job field has narrowed considerably if I still want to do what I studied, which is marine science.

"Given I'm not supposed to expose my grafts to much sunlight since they burn really easy, and I'm quite pale anyway, working outside/on a boat has become quite limited. I still really want to, because that's my passion, so I'm hoping I can come up with something."

Her family and partner had been her rock and "really help on my dark days", and the young woman caught up in an unimaginably horrific event has won hearts online with her upfront posts chronicling her recovery.

She was "just trying to be realistic about everything", Waghorn said.

"I've been dealt this hand, and it's an awful hand to be dealt, but I don't have much of a choice other than to keep going forward, because curling up in bed and letting the scar tissue take over isn't an option."

• To become a blood donor down the app, visit nzblood.co.nz or call 0800 448 325 (0800 GIVE BLOOD) and book an appointment.

What you need to know about the New Zealand Blood Service

More blood and blood plasma donors are always needed. Photo / File
More blood and blood plasma donors are always needed. Photo / File

• Fewer than 4 per cent of eligible New Zealanders are registered to donate

• There are 110,000 blood donors in New Zealand, 11,000 of whom are plasma donors. To keep up with demand the blood service needs to double the plasma donor registry

• Every 18 minutes someone in New Zealand needs blood or plasma

• One whole blood donation can save up to three lives

• The blood service needs to collect more than 3500 donations every week to meet demand

• Red cells only have a shelf life of 35 days and platelets need to be transfused within seven days