Couple shares pain, anguish of recovery following White Island eruption - 'Our first year of marriage has been robbed'

This is the second of a two-part series with American Whakaari/White Island survivors Matt and Lauren Urey.  

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Matt and Lauren Urey plan to seek damages from the cruise line that sold them the volcano tour, as well as White Island Tours. Source: 1 NEWS

By Paul Hobbs and Audrey Malone

When the boat landed at Whakatāne, Lauren Urey was drifting in and out of consciousness.

She doesn’t remember much about the boat ride or being rushed for medical treatment.

Her husband Matt, grappling with skin peeling away from his body and excruciating pain, refused to receive medical treatment at Whakatāne Hospital until someone looked after her.

“That was the last time I saw her,” Matt Urey said.

His next thought was to reassure his parents.

“I just happened to have the thought, my mum's going see us on the news and panic.”

With the help of medical staff, he calmly contacted her – his voicemail played out across the globe.

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Americans Matt and Lauren Urey spoke to 1 NEWS as New Zealand mourns the six-month mark since the disaster occurred. Source: 1 NEWS

He was then flown to Christchurch on a three-hour flight while Lauren was sent to Middlemore. They were both placed in medically induced comas, while back in the states their parents rushed to organise flights to be at the bedsides in New Zealand.

While the honeymooners slept through surgeries and skin grafts at the respective hospitals, their families watched on.

“We both made the comment we slept through the worst part of this, our families had to endure an absolute nightmare watching us in that state,” Matt said.

Matt woke up first and it took him days to fully understand what was going on.  When he did, he started getting concerned at how long it was taking for Lauren to wake up.

Legs of Whakaari/ White Island eruption survivor Lauren Urey Source: Supplied

When she did wake up- surrounded by her parents and sister - she felt her head. Her long auburn hair had been shaved off, leaving a prickly layer of stubble covering her scalp.

As a new bride, Lauren was acutely aware of the burns to her body, and the lack of locks.

She just wanted to be attractive to her husband.

“I hated the way I looked. I was so scared to Facetime with Matt,” Lauren explained.

“I would just refuse because I would think I was ugly… I mean it was torture, it was so hard.”

What was whirling around in her head was the thought he wouldn’t love her anymore.

However, the couple continued to talk each day, and eventually video messaged.

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American survivors of White Island eruption to seek damages from cruise line and tour operators

The next hurdle for Lauren was when the pair met again after arriving back in the United States. She had a couple of days to sit with her thoughts as she arrived on January 27, 2020.  Matt landed back on American soil four days later on February 1.

Anxiety ran high again.

“I was terrified for him to see me.

“It was hard to accept everything and it was hard to go through it separated.”

Matt places his compression bandaged hand on Lauren’s shoulder, comforting his wife as she remembers the feelings.

Lauren and Matt Urey on their wedding day. Source: Supplied

The nurses at their local hospital helped to make the lovebirds reunion easier, giving the pair privacy to eat Italian take out by candle-light.

The couple are at home in Richmond, Virginia, where Matt has been working from home since mid-March. The Ureys are taking legal action against the tour operator and the cruise line, and will continue to undergo treatment for some time.

It’s still a long road ahead.

“You know we are newlyweds but we can't even sleep in the same bed together. It’s so itchy, the sites are healing, there’s so much discomfort,” Lauren said. 

Frustration and sadness hang in the air.

“I feel like our first year of marriage has pretty much been robbed from us.”

Read yesterday's story, in which the newlyweds recounted the eruption and the moment they thought they would die as debris singed their skin, here.