UGA senior, 21, dies six weeks afer being diagnosed with stage 4 tumor
A University of Georgia senior has died six weeks after she was diagnosed with a stage 4 tumor that caused a horrific brain bleed while in Mexico on Spring Break.
Liza Burke, 21, spent the last few weeks fighting for her life after doctors from the Mayo Clinic diagnosed her with a grade four astrocytoma glioma, a malignant and aggressive tumor located on the brain stem that grows rapidly.
Burke was on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico with her boyfriend and 53 of his fraternity brothers and their friends, when she suffered a brain hemorrhage. Burke was rushed to a hospital in Mexico before she was air lifted to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida on March 10.
Over the last few weeks, she endured daily radiation treatments in hopes of shrinking the tumor, but a CT scan on April 13 revealed a new hemorrhage in her brain. After meeting with doctors on April 17, the family made the agonizing decision to cease radiation.
On early Friday morning Liza passed away. She was surrounded by family and friends, according to a post Liza’s mother, Laura McKeithen, wrote on posthope.org, a platform she created that shared daily updates on Liza’s condition.
‘It is with both relief and belief that I share Liza’s passing at around 2:20 last night,’ McKeithen wrote. ‘Liza has now been reunited with her sister and they are making up for lost time!’
Sadly, this was not the first loss of a child for McKeithen. In 2008, she and her ex-husband lost daughter Edie, at the age of 10, who suffered from a rare genetic disorder.
Liza Burke, 21, spent the last few weeks fighting to survive a stage 4 brain tumor, but sadly passed away early Friday morning
Liza with her mother Laura McKeithen. Liza’s mom was at her daughter’s bedside each day sending prayers of love and strength to her child. She created a plaform on posthope.org where friends and family could get daily updates on her daughter’s condition
Liza (pictured center) surrounded by her family (l-r) Liza’s stepfather, Bryan; mother Laura and her brother, Jack at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida
Edie Burke passed away on May 2, 2008 just three months away from her 10th birthday.
Her mother told Mountain Xpress that Edie was born with a genetic disorder called Mucopolysaccharidoses (MPS-Type 1) and was diagnosed with the condition when she was 13 months old.
She said Edie ‘loved music, her family and the big purple dinosaur. She was loved deeply in return by her family, friends and neighbors — by her community.
As Liza’s condition grew more complicated, Liza’s courageous mother stayed in touch with DailyMail.com sharing daily updates of her daughter’s fight to survive.
It is unclear how long Liza had the tumor, but her mother said doctors told her that it had likely been dormant for years, explaining that ‘the tumor became aggressive in a very short time.’
She said her daughter started complaining around 2019 – around the time she started college – of head pain and at times of being lightheaded.
‘Liza said maybe four times, “I think there is something wrong in my head,” and three times she told me she felt like she was going to faint.’
But, like most college kids McKeithen figured it was from lack of sleep and the stress from her studies.
‘I assumed it was just a 20-something girl who is under a lot of pressure. The way she said it – it was never a plea… she never seemed like there was an urgency.’
The day before she experienced the brain hemorrhage she was enjoying her Spring Break going cliff diving, enjoying a boat ride and a bonfire.
McKeithen recalled: ‘She was feeling great and she sent me a photo of her doing a handstand.’
Liza going cliff diving during her Spring Break trip to Mexico in early March
Liza pictured with the children she taught English too when she lived in Mexico for a semester during her junior year of high school
The next day, she came down with a massive headache after she finished a workout at the gym. McKeithen said she told her boyfriend she was going to take a nap. When he went back to check on her a few hours later, he was not able to rouse her and rushed her to the hospital.
When she got the gut-wrenching news about her daughter, doctors told her they placed an EVD line into her brain to drain the fluid – but also told her they were not sure how much brain damage she sustained.
McKeithen jumped on the first plane out to Cabo San Lucas as her daughter was experiencing some cardiac issues.
A series of events took place prompting many roadblocks to get Liza out of Mexico and to the Mayo Clinic in Florida.
The medical air ambulance was unable to get to Mexico to transport her daughter via plane because the airport in San Diego was closed because President Biden was in town.
McKeithen was racing against the clock to get her daughter the immediate life-saving medical care she needed.
‘You can’t make this up. It was insane. I have friends who had to call their friends who work for the FAA who were able to get the plane off the ground.’
When Burke first arrived at the Mayo Clinic her mom said she became responsive once the sedatives wore off – pulling the tube away from her mouth and moving her fingers.
‘In Mexico the doctor said they’d take her off sedation to see if there was any brain activity. They expected nothing and had prepared me for that then Liza moved intentionally and we were all stunned … total elation,’ McKeithen said.
But, a few days later she had a setback and was no longer responding, and at one point doctors had ‘the talk’ preparing her for the worst, but miraculously her daughter continued to fight.
There were days Liza gave a toe wiggle, a hand squeeze, an eyebrow raise and even puckered her lips for her mom to kiss her – surprising doctors and delighting family members, but as the weeks went on there were less responses.
The family continued to pray and rely on their faith to get through the darkest hours and decided they would end treatment on April 17 and let her live out her final days in peace. And, would soon start hospice treatment.
‘Tom, Jack, my sister Anna, Bryan and I met with several doctors and made the decision to cease radiation and pursue providing Liza a send-off like she only deserves,’ she said.
‘Tonight we begin the hunt for the perfect place by the sea where Liza can enjoy her final days supported by the infinite love that surrounds her.
‘If I could, I would hang onto Liza, and follow here. But since I can’t, please continue your prayers for our Sleeping Warrior and for all of us who will never fully fill the void that will be left in her wake.’
Liza caught a massive fish during a fishing trip when she was away in Nayarit, Mexico when she was teaching students during her junior year in high school
The fearless young Liza is seen in this photo at a firing range
Liza is dressed in full leopard costume for a high school graduation party
Over the next weeks, new friends and old friends, Liza’s former field hockey teammates and coach, and her beloved boyfriend stayed by her side.
They laughed. They cried. They shared words of inspiration and continued to pray for this incredibly brave young woman, daughter, sister and friend.
In Liza’s mother’s final entry, she wrote:
‘After the movie ended, Bryan and I went upstairs to sleep while Jack slept hand in hand with his sister.
‘Once he fell asleep and the only eyes on Liza were those of her ‘other mother.’
‘Liza took a final breath, sighed, and transitioned into the next realm. Beane, the dog quickly sensed it and was downstairs while I was being awakened.’
After Hospice was called, we dressed Liza in colorful pajamas, gifted by her boyfriend’s mother and Jack’s girlfriend, Elli, braided her hair.
Liza’s dad, uncle, and a few of my UGA friends came in to say their goodbyes.’
Liza’s mother told DailyMail.com that her daughter’s brain will be donated to science for future study and that her body will be cremated.
They plan to have a number of celebration of life events including one in Athens, Georgia and another at a later date in her hometown of Asheville, North Carolina.
She has also set up the Foundation of the Carolinas on behalf of both of her late daughters, Liza and Edie, to be used for educational purposes.
Some of the funds will be used as endowment at the University of Georgia, and the other, for Liza’s students in San Pancho, Mexico.