Jacksonville doctor explains rare condition that caused UGA student’s spring break hospitalization

UGA student complained of headache, was found unconscious hours later, family says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The mother of a University of Georgia student who suffered a brain hemorrhage while on spring break in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, says her daughter is able to communicate by squeezing her hand and nodding.

Liza Burke’s family said she was flown back to the U.S. and is receiving treatment at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. She had been on life support.

While on vacation Friday, her family said, she experienced a headache and went to her hotel room to rest. They said she was found unconscious several hours later.

Doctors in Mexico determined the 22-year-old was suffering from brain bleeding, and her doctors believe it was caused by a condition called an arteriovenous malformation, or AVM.

“AVM is a cluster of abnormal blood vessels in the brain, which are under high pressure at times,” explained Dr. Ravi Pande, a neuroendovascular surgeon at HCA Florida Memorial Hospital.

Pande says those blood vessels can rupture, leading to brain bleeding.

“Any intercranial hemorrhage is very serious, a critical matter. But to bleed from AVM especially are very high-risk because they’re at risk of hemorrhaging further,” Pande said.

Laura McKeithen, Burke’s mother, wrote that her daughter is no longer sedated and breathing on her own. She wrote, ”She’s been squeezing hands, wiggling toes and even lifting her head from the pillow…”

Burke has an army of people who have rallied together to show their support. A GoFundMe was created to help pay for the costs of the emergency transportation. In two days, more than $140,000 was raised.

Her family thanked everyone for their support during the difficult time and asks for prayers. A statement from the family spokesperson reads:

“Thanks to the tremendous support of family and friends who graciously donated to Friends of Liza Burke, a GoFundMe account created on her behalf, Liza was safely transported to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida where we’re confident she’ll continue to receive excellent medical care. While on spring break in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, Liza suffered a brain hemorrhage doctors there attributed to an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). A serious and largely congenital condition, AVMs are a tangle of blood vessels that connect arteries and veins in the brain and can go undetected until they rupture. Liza’s family and friends are extremely grateful for the outpouring of love, support, and generosity from so many during this unimaginably difficult time. Her mom, Laura McKeithen, and Liza’s family, ask for continued prayers for her recovery. We’ll continue to provide updates as they are available.”

About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.