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Liza Burke, college senior who had brain hemorrhage on spring break, dies of brain tumor

On March 10, Liza Burke complained of a headache while on a spring break trip and went to lie down. A few hours later, her boyfriend found her unconscious.
Liza Burke.
Liza Burke.11Alive via YouTube
/ Source: TODAY

Liza Burke, a senior at the University of Georgia who experienced a brain hemorrhage while on a spring break trip to Mexico, died April 28 after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She was 21.

"Following a six-week battle with a previously-undiagnosed brain tumor, Liza transitioned into the next realm peacefully while being cared for by friends and family," Liza Burke's obituary read. "Heaven is undoubtedly rejoicing at her arrival. But she will be missed by so many in her hometown of Asheville, NC, and home-away-from-home, Athens, GA."

In a blog entry from the night of Thursday, April 27, the 21-year-old's mother, Laura McKeithen, wrote that family visited Liza Burke and watched her favorite movie, "Interstellar."

"After the movie ended, Bryan and I went upstairs to sleep while Jack slept hand in hand with his sister," McKeithen wrote in another journal entry. "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."

On Friday morning, McKeithen shared "with both relief and belief" that the college student died at around 2:20 a.m.

"Liza has now been reunited with her sister and they are making up for lost time!" she wrote, referring to Liza Burke's late sister, Edie Burke, who died in 2008 at age 9 from a rare genetic disorder.

The family's dog, Beane, "quickly sensed" that Liza Burke had passed, her mom wrote, and came downstairs. She also added that after calling hospice, they dressed Liza Burke in colorful pajamas and her brother Jack Burke's girlfriend braided her hair.

On March 10, Liza Burke complained of a headache while on her trip to Mexico and went to lie down, according to McKeithen. A few hours later, her boyfriend found her unconscious.

Liza Burke was taken to an area hospital, then subsequently transported to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

“The last month has been nothing short of a nightmare, a roller coaster and a love story all rolled up into one,” McKeithen wrote on a GoFundMe page for her daughter. “We give thanks that Liza has survived despite the odds.”

The GoFundMe page, which raised more than $100,000 for Liza Burke's medical expenses, is now closed. The family has set up the Liza and Edie Burke Educational Fund at the Foundation for the Carolinas in honor of the two sisters, which supports "educational opportunities for young people at the University of Georgia and beyond."

At first, doctors believed Liza Burke's brain hemorrhaged due to a condition called arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which occurs when blood vessels get abnormally tangled, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

However, further testing revealed that she didn't have AVM, but rather was diagnosed with a tumor near her brain stem, a March 24 update on the GoFundMe page said.

The tumor was likely dormant "for many years before it became aggressive in a very short time," McKeithen wrote.

After a few weeks of radiation treatment, Liza Burke had an external ventricular drain inserted to help drain fluid from her brain.

On April 17, the family and doctors decided to "cease radiation and pursue providing Liza a send-off like only she deserves!"

"If I could, I would hang onto Liza and follow her. 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," her mom wrote.