With her hand tightly held by her brother, who lay in the bed next to her, Liza Burke took her last breath and fell asleep, she would not wake up again.
The world has been following the story of Liza, the beautiful 21-year-old University of Georgia senior, who organized, for 53 friends a final, pre-graduation spring break trip to Cabo. But when she was there, she had a brain hemorrhage and was later diagnosed with an aggressive malignant brain tumor. It was her final trip ever.
When she died on April 28, her mother Laura McKeithen, said that “her brother slept on the sofa and held her hand all night long. She drew her last breath with Jack holding her hand.”
Describing Liza as someone who “lived it big,” and “very authentic and unapologetically herself,” her 55-year-old mother offers this advice: “Don’t waste time worrying about stupid stuff. Just go for it.”
That’s the philosophy that drove Liza, an adventurous soul that inspired her to travel the world.
Vacationing in Cabo, Liza sent her mom photos of her doing handstands on the beach, boating, and cliff diving. On her last night, the group had a beach bonfire where they sang and told stories. The next morning, after a workout with her boyfriend, she left breakfast early, telling friends that she had a blinding headache. Heading to her room for a nap, she was found hours later, unconscious in bed.
Doctors in Mexico found Liza had a brain bleed and suspected a ruptured Arteriovenous malformation (AVM), part of her skull was removed to slow the bleeding. Her mom immediately flew to be with Liza and brought her back to her home state of Florida, where she took her to the Mayo Clinic. Doctors there ruled out AVM and discovered she had a malignant, aggressive tumor in the brainstem.
Recalling when Liza first woke from sedation, Laura said her daughter ripped the ventilator from her mouth, “They were worried she wouldn’t breathe on her own, but of course, she was fine.”
The tumor, stressing the part of her brain that kept her awake, made it difficult for Liza, who kept falling in and out of sleep.
“When she was awake, she was talking a little bit, and she was communicating by squeezing my hand or wiggling her toes,” her mom said. “I asked her, ‘Liza, are you scared?’ I had been asking her all kinds of other questions and when I asked her if she was scared, she did not squeeze my hand.”
Family and friends had a few more days with Liza, who rebounded when she started what was supposed to be six weeks of daily radiation.
She was doing squats, riding a bike, and trying to walk.
But a few days later, doctors found a new hemorrhage on her brain.
Knowing Liza’s energetic spirit, her mother did not want Liza intubated again, which triggered conversations with her medical team.
Laura said wondered if the headaches Liza suffered in her freshman year were early signs of the brain tumor, and if they caught it earlier, would her daughter be okay?