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Brookfield Central High School teacher battles liver failure, shows improvement

Family and friends help raise money for treatment

Nicole Liebetrau with fiance Tyler Kuenick.

Nicole Liebetrau with fiance Tyler Kuenick.

July 14, 2014

Nicole Liebetrau, a special-education teacher at Brookfield Central High School, is showing signs of recovery after battling acute liver failure.

Liebetrau, 26, had displayed signs of illness in June, but the severity of the diagnosis surprised everyone, especially family and friends.

"In the early weeks of June, she was just exhausted, and she's not a tired girl," said Danna Bowe, a friend and co-worker of Liebetrau. "She originally thought she had an ulcer … but she was in so much pain."

"It's something that came on very suddenly," said BCHS Principal Brett Gruetzmacher. "She's young, healthy and takes care of herself — this was really shocking."

Liebetrau went to the emergency room on June 28 and was later diagnosed by doctors at Froedtert Hospital, who determined the liver failure was caused by an onset of Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis.

HLH is a life-threatening condition whereby a person's immune system works improperly and begins to damage tissue and organs.

"She's battling these two things simultaneously," Bowe said. "It's like a moving target. Once we get the liver (transplant), we have to cure the disease."

"This is a nightmare for everyone," she continued. "The hours seem like years and we're all waiting for results."

On July 12 friends and family received some good news.

After running into difficulty with a potential transplant for Liebetrau, doctors eventually found a more suitable liver and were able to begin surgery, family members reported. The transplant surgery appeared to be successful.

"Walking around the corner to Nicole's room in ICU this morning was filled with anticipation," wrote Liebetrau's mother, Kim, on the nonprofit blogging site CaringBridge.org. "And then I saw the most beautiful brown eyes that I've ever seen. Nicole was awake and responding to questions. … All signs medically are headed in the right direction. Each and every prayer has been heard by God and he has answered these prayers in the way we knew he would."

Bowe said she hopes Liebetrau's story will inspire others to sign up as organ donors.

"Blood donation and signing up to be an organ donor is so important," she said. "It's unfortunate it takes something so tragic to realize that you really can give the gift of life."

The road ahead

Liebetrau isn't out of the woods yet, but family members and friends are confident that she will recover.

"She is a warrior and she's got a fight in her that's unparalleled," Bowe said, "… but this is going to be a long recovery from the HLH."

Liebetrau's fiancé, Tyler Kuenick, hasn't left her bedside, Bowe said. The couple is engaged to married on June 19, 2015.

Even after recovery, the expense of such an ordeal is going to be difficult for such a young married couple, she added.

A fundraiser website has been launched to help with Liebetrau's costly medical treatment. Donations can be received through www.gofundme.com/b9glr0.

"Everyone wants to do something for her … and this (fundraiser) gives the family one less thing to worry about," Bowe said.

BCHS is also excited to see Liebetrau return, Gruetzmacher said.

"For a young teacher, Nicole has tremendous leadership and organization skills," he said. "We look forward to the day she's back at Brookfield Central."

Updates on Liebetrau's condition can be found at www.caringbridge.org/visit/nicoleliebetrau.

"If anyone can overcome this, Nicole can," Bowe said. "You know, the other day I came across the definition of Nicole's name. 'Nicole' means "Victory of the People.' And this will be her greatest victory yet."

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