CHURCH HILL — Nick LaBrie, a longtime local paramedic who was hospitalized in mid-November with chronic liver disease complications, underwent the organ transplant he desperately needed and is on the mend, according to online updates from LaBrie’s sister, Michelle LaBrie Matthews.
LaBrie’s story pulled at the heart strings of many people in the Eastern Shore communities of Maryland and Delaware where he has worked for years as a paramedic. Co-workers, friends and strangers alike rallied to raise money for LaBrie’s family via a GoFundMe page his sister organized.
Matthews created the fundraising page, titled “A paramedic’s own emergency,” on Nov. 23 to raise money for LaBrie’s wife and two children as they focused on his recovery. The page exceeded its initial $10,000 goal within 24 hours.
Matthews moved the goalpost twice in less than a month — to $20,000 and then $30,000 — and the funds raised topped more than $31,000 as of Dec. 24.
Matthews said her brother “in no way wants to ask for handouts or (to) feel as though he can not provide,” but LaBrie won’t be able to return to work for several months, and he and his family “have a long road ahead.”
LaBrie lives in Church Hill and currently works as a paramedic field training officer in Kent County, Del., but he has worked with the Maryland State Police, Goodwill Volunteer Fire Department in Centreville and emergency services departments in Caroline, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties, as well as rescue squads with Kent and Queen Anne’s counties.
A little more than a month ago, LaBrie was admitted to an intensive care unit after the condition of his autoimmune hepatitis, with which he was diagnosed at age 12, worsened and left him critically ill.
During the first few days of LaBrie’s hospitalization, Matthews wrote on the GoFundMe page, “the fear is that Nick may be too sick for transplant.”
When LaBrie’s condition improved, he became a candidate for a liver transplant and awaited a suitable liver donation for weeks. On Dec. 8, he received the donation and underwent a successful transplant procedure — a development his sister called the “gift of life.”
LaBrie was discharged from the hospital on Dec. 22, but the “road to recovery continues and will need vigilant adherence to doctors’ orders,” Matthews wrote.
LaBrie’s step-sister, Tory, who lives in New Orleans, also posted on the GoFundMe page, detailing her and her twin sister Tara’s competitive efforts to pray for their brother.
Tory said Tara was praying for LaBrie from her home in Maryland, “closer to Nick,” adding that they’re “identical twins so competition is basically our birthright.”
Tory said she braved a tourist-filled church in New Orleans that housed an International Shrine of St. Jude. It’s the oldest surviving church in New Orleans, “built in 1862 to serve the families of yellow fever victims,” she wrote.
“I elbowed into the church past a tour group, first distracted and then angry. These people were sightseeing! My stepbrother needs a liver and apparently St. Jude can help! Get out of my way!,” Tory wrote.
“I lit a candle, gave a donation and took a prayer card, then went back to work,” she said. “That very evening our family learned that a donor liver had become available, leaving Tara and I to debate for the rest of our lives whose efforts to credit for this awesome turn of fortune.”
Tory later added to her GoFundMe post that, “In the spirit of fairness, and sibling rivalry, Tara would like to note that she visited the Basilica in (Washington, D.C.) ON THE SAME DAY. And also lit a candle.”
According to Matthews, who said she kept LaBrie updated on the goings on of the outside world, LaBrie said he was “humbled” by the community donations, which continue to climb.
“I don’t think he ever imagined there would be such an enormous outpouring of support,” Matthews said.
“From this day forward every person that Nick helps, every emergency he responds to, every life he saves — will be a direct result of this gift (of an organ donation),” she wrote. “A legacy that can save many more lives.
“Please know that every kind word and gesture of support along the way has been beyond amazing, and we are forever grateful,” Matthews wrote on the fundraising page on Dec. 22.
She said LaBrie had “tunnel vision” to be home in time for Christmas and he showed “just how determined (or perhaps stubborn) he can be” to meet that goal.
To donate to the LaBrie family, visit www.gofundme.com and search for “A paramedic’s own emergency: The LaBrie Family.”