UGA senior “drew her last breath,” ending her six-week struggle with a brain tumor, with her brother’s hand firmly grasping hers.

Liza Burke breathed her final breath while her brother, who was sleeping beside her, held her hand tightly. She would not awaken again.

The story of Liza, a stunning 21-year-old University of Georgia senior who planned a final pre-graduation spring break trip to Cabo for 53 pals, has garnered worldwide attention. She experienced a brain bleed while there and was later found to have an aggressive malignant brain tumor. It was her last journey ever.

Her mother, Laura McKeithen, reported that “her brother slept on the sofa and held her hand all night long” until she passed away on April 28. Jack held her hand as she took her final breath.

Liza’s 55-year-old mother, who calls her daughter someone who “lived it large,” “extremely real and shamelessly herself,” gives this advice: “Don’t waste time worrying about stupid things. Go for it.”

That was Liza’s guiding principle; her adventurous spirit motivated her to tour the globe.

Liza texted her mother pictures of herself doing handstands on the beach, boating, and cliff diving while on vacation in Cabo. The group gathered around a beach bonfire, where they sang and shared stories of her last night. After working out with her lover, she left breakfast early the following morning and informed friends that she had a blinding headache. She went to her room to take a nap but was discovered in bed unconscious hours later.

Liza’s brain was bleeding when doctors in Mexico discovered her. Suspecting a ruptured Arteriovenous malformation (AVM), they amputated a portion of her skull to stop the bleeding. Liza’s mother flew to be with her, bringing her back to Florida and taking her to the Mayo Clinic. She had an aggressive and malignant brainstem tumor after the doctors ruled out AVM.

Laura recalled that her daughter took the ventilator out of Liza’s mouth when she first awoke from sedation. “They were worried she wouldn’t breathe alone, but of course, she was fine,” Laura said.

Liza found it challenging to fall asleep because the tumor stressed the area of her brain that kept her awake.

According to her mother, she was communicating by squeezing my hand or wriggling her toes when she was awake. “I questioned her, ‘Liza, are you scared?’” She did not grip my hand when I inquired whether she was terrified after asking her various other things.

Liza recovered after beginning the daily radiation treatment meant to last six weeks, so family and friends had a few more days with her.

She was trying to walk, doing squats, and riding a bike.

However, specialists discovered a fresh bleeding on her brain a few days later.

Due to Liza’s mother’s desire to avoid another intubation and Liza’s infectious spirit, discussions with her medical team began.

Laura questioned whether Liza’s migraines during her first year of college were precursors to the brain tumor and if they had been discovered earlier. Would her daughter be okay?

Laura remembered asking Liza’s oncologist, “If we had caught this when she first told me that she thought there was something wrong in her head-do, you think things could have been different?” during their conversation.

The doctor responded, “Well, I can tell you one thing for sure: She wouldn’t have all of these pictures,” after taking a look around the woman’s furnished room, which was “full, full, full, full of pictures of her and her friends.” Then, according to Laura, he told her, “We would eventually be exactly where we are right now.”

Laura had to look for a place where she was confident her daughter would be content after the family found that the treatment was failing and recommended hospice care.

Her mother recalled thinking, “She would want to be somewhere lovely, where she could be with her friends and family, and everybody could celebrate her, and she could be outside and enjoy the beach or the mountains.”

After clarifying with the owners that they were okay with it being used for hospice care, Laura selected a seaside Airbnb and leased it for a month. On April 19, Liza and her immediate family moved into the home, which friends and grandparents frequently visited.

Liza was alert back then, but she couldn’t speak. Laura claimed that her child spoke by “a little gesture with her mouth or her eyelids, but she would wiggle her toes.”

Everyone came to watch Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain, on April 27.

Following the film, Laura explained her choice to her bedroom, saying, “I knew if I were with her, I would probably drive her crazy, staring at her and squeezing her hand and squeezing her toes and kissing her.”

Liza passed away about 2 a.m. on Friday while cuddling beside her brother Jack in bed.

Liza exhaled her last, sighed, and then moved on to the following dimension. “Liza has now been reunited with her sister, and they are making up for lost time,” Laura concluded. Edie, Liza’s older sister, passed away in 2008 due to MPS1, a rare genetic condition.

In an online journal, Laura expressed her heartbroken thoughts, saying, “If I could, I would hang onto Liza and follow her.”

Liza’s letter to her future self was a class project from her final year of high school that Laura received in the mail on May 2. When the pupils graduated from college, the teacher vowed to mail the letters to them. Liza’s graduation date is May 12, 2023.

It was stunning. Laura stated, “It was all her. I’ll read from it at my memorial.”

Laura intends to scatter Liza’s ashes in the mountains and possibly some in Mexico. Liza was cremated.

That malignancy may have ended her life, but it didn’t slow her down. Laura recalled her daughter as a brave, daring, adventurous, and joyous young woman. She had a life.

“Her legacy is to enjoy each day to the utmost. She did life well, which I want everyone to know. I wish I could live my life as successfully as she has.”

Her mother requests donations to The Liza and Edie Burke Education Fund to “honor two sisters and the genuine, dynamic, playful, and fierce way they gave back to the world.”

The loss of Liza is extremely tragic! She was still so young and had a bright future. We send our condolences to the family during this difficult time, especially Laura, who lost her second daughter.

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