The parents of the teenage tour guide who almost lost his life when Whakaari/White Island erupted underneath him on his 19th birthday have broken their silence — thanking the heroes who kept him alive since and revealing their much-loved son was now able to talk to them.
Jake Milbank is one of 26 people still in hospital after the December 9 tragedy on the tourist destination off the Bay of Plenty coastline.
He is one of 13 patients who remain in New Zealand hospitals, and among the nine in that group who are in a critical condition.
Thirteen other survivors are being treated in hospitals in Australia after being flown home in recent weeks.
In an interview with Whakatane's Beacon newspaper, Jake's parents have:
• Revealed any delay in evacuating him to safety from White Island would have cost him his life.
• Spoken of the extraordinary medical steps being taken to care for him.
• Thanked generous Kiwis who have sent the family their best wishes and given to an online fundraiser.
• Said that, given the severity of his injuries and burns, they were taking things "day-by-day".
"Any delays in getting [Jake] off the island . . . that would have been it," Steve Milbank told the Beacon.
"So we are just so thankful to everybody involved . . . the ambos, the Coastguard, doctors, everybody. Getting everybody prepped 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."
Milbank said he wanted to give a "big thank you" to everyone involved in getting Jake, and others injured in the tragedy, off White Island as quickly as they did.
"It pretty much saved their lives," he said.
Jake was initially taken off White Island on a White Island Tours boat, which was skippered by Paul Kingi.
Kingi's boat had departed White Island before the sudden eruption, but he bravely returned to help those injured.
"They were just five minutes away from White Island; they turned around and came back and got everybody off that they could," Milbank said.
"The helicopter pilots did an amazing job too, getting everybody out of there."
Nineteen people died in the White Island tragedy. The death toll includes local guide Hayden Marshall-Inman and teenage Australian tourist Winona Langford, whose bodies have not yet been recovered.
Jake suffered burns to 80 per cent of his body in the eruption and is still in a critical condition at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital.
Milbank said his son was awake and able to speak to family members, but he faced a big battle.
"He is doing as good as we could hope for with the injuries he has," he said. "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 is still going for operations every few days, some skin grafts, because he has got very little skin it is going to be a long, slow process."
Jake's mother, Janet, revealed her son was in a "special, temperature-controlled pod".
"He knows exactly what has happened," she said. "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."
Added Steve Milbank of his son's progress: "He is bloody amazing really. 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."
Medical staff at Middlemore were doing a "massive job", he said.
As well as treating his burns, physiotherapists were also working with him to stretch his limbs to make sure he didn't "seize up".
More than $120,000 has been donated to a Givealittle page set up for Jake.
Milbank said "awesome messages" of love and support had been read to his son.
Janet Milbank added the contents of the messages had also helped her greatly. "They certainly helped me in those first few days.
"We have had good support around us with friends and family and they have really helped us get through it as well."
On Wednesday, the Herald revealed two other White Island survivors being treated in Middlemore Hospital — American tourists Rick and Ivy Kohn Reed — could be just weeks away from being flown home.
Family members of the couple said the pair are making good progress in the hospital's burns unit.
Close relatives recently arrived in Auckland to be at their bedside, providing an update on a GoFundMe page set up to raise funds for their care, and to cover expenses as they recover.
"They reported that Ivy had another procedure done to graft skin around her head and neck," the update read.
"They also said Rick looked good. Both his legs and arms remain wrapped but no burns on his face.
"He was up and alert.
"Overall both seemed to be in good spirits."
Rick Kohn is set for a further operation today. Another post said hopefully they would be able to be flown back to America for further medical care in a "few weeks".