Paramedic facing own emergency, awaiting liver transplant

Nick LaBrie is a paramedic and a family man. Here, he is surrounded by his wife Teira and children Alaina and Jay. A GoFundMe page has been made by Mr. LaBrie’s sister in order to help provide for the family while he battles liver disease.

DOVER — Like most first responders, when Nick LaBrie arrives at emergencies in hopes of saving lives, it’s not just a job, it’s a passion.

Now, after battling liver disease since he was 12 years old, his family and co-workers are reaching out to the community to help save Mr. LaBrie – a husband, brother, father and friend, who is employed with Kent County Levy Court Department of Emergency Services as an FTO (field training officer) Paramedic 2.

Mr. LaBrie has endured 30 years of tests, medicines and hospitalizations since he was diagnosed with Autoimmune Hepatitis (AIH).

Michelle Matthews, his younger sister, said that many have been unaware of the seriousness of his disease, as he has always been very private. But now he is at a critical point in his fight as he is unable to work and awaiting a liver transplant in the intensive care unit of the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore.

“The prognosis is good, he just needs to have a transplant,” Ms. Matthews said. “As you well know this is out of our control and mostly a waiting game. Nick was able to have the breathing tube removed and earlier this week we were even hopeful that he would perhaps progress to returning home to wait for a match.

“Unfortunately, he was unable to be moved from the ICU (due to hepatic encephalopathy) and has decompensated over the last day or so. The staff at University of Maryland have been fantastic and we are fortunate he is there. We have been told this can be quite the roller coaster with lots of ups and downs and we are finding that to be true.”

With Mr. LaBrie fighting for his life and unable to work, Ms. Matthews has started a GoFundMe page to help his family with bills and expenses. He has a wife, Teira, and two young children, Alaina, 10, and Jay, 6. As of Thursday afternoon, $26,727 had been raised out of a $30,000 goal.

“The money raised will go directly to my sister-in-law (Teira), Nick’s wife, and his children to use towards any day-to-day expenses,” said Ms. Matthews. “Though his wife is able to use FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) she has very little paid time left. This means the time she is away at the hospital or home caring for him she will go without pay.

“Nick also worked quite a bit of overtime and a second job to make ends meet, so that loss of income is quite significant. The fact that I’m even (saying) this is miraculous, as Nick in no way wants to ask for handouts or feel as though he cannot provide. Anyone who really knows him will know this to be an understatement.”

Ms. Matthews said that her brother has always been a fighter. It’s just a part of his nature.

“As of (Wednesday) evening, Nick was able to squeeze your hand and wiggle his toes on command,” she said. “This will be a very long road.”

Nick LaBrie loves spending time with his children, Alaina, 10, and Jay, 6.

Part of a team at Kent County

Mr. LaBrie has been a valuable member of the emergency services team at Kent County as both a teacher and a paramedic.

Cyndy Grygo, assistant director of public safety for Kent County and manager of its EMS Division, said it’s always tough to see a co-worker have serious health issues, but it especially hits home during the holidays.

“Nick is very well-liked,” Ms. Grygo said. “He’s a really great guy, a really great employee who has a family with young children, so we’re really pulling together for him. This is a tough situation any time of the year but with it being the holidays and all it touches you a little bit stronger, knowing what his family is going through.

“Nick has been with us for about three years. He’s a field training officer within the division and he’s having a tough time right now. We’re basically just trying to help him out any way we can.”

Several of his co-workers have donated their time off to Mr. LaBrie, however, on Jan. 1 the time off will reset and it won’t be available anymore. Hence, the rally with the GoFundMe page.

Ms. Matthews said her brother’s colleagues in Kent County Emergency Services have been a godsend.

“Nick’s colleagues have been very supportive,” she said. “Not only have they called, texted, visited and donated to the campaign – but they have also donated their own leave so that he could continue to receive an income. They have also made arrangements for Nick’s wife’s car to be repaired so she may safely travel to and from Baltimore.

“Many former colleagues have also done the same, sending cards, donating money, visiting, and adding Nick to prayer lists at their churches.”

Kent County is Mr. LaBrie’s latest stop in what has been a long history of working in service professions.

He originally planned on a career in law enforcement, hoping to become a Maryland State Trooper. However, his disease prevented him from moving forward in the process.

That setback did not stop him as he went on to work for the Maryland State Police as a police communication officer.

Not long after, he joined the Goodwill Volunteer Fire Department in Centreville, Maryland, and that was where he found his true calling – emergency services.

Mr. LaBrie went on to work for Caroline County Department of Emergency Services, Queen Anne County Department of Emergency Services, and worked part-time for both the Talbot County Department of Emergency Services and the Kent and Queen Anne’s Rescue Squad as a paramedic before moving over to Delaware.

This is a form that was filled out by Nick LaBrie as he was admitted to the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore.

My ‘obnoxious older brother’

Ms. Matthews jokes that while Mr. LaBrie remains her “obnoxious older brother,” he is truly liked by his co-workers at Kent County and is amazing at what he does.

She knows one thing is for certain, if somebody in her family has an emergency, she wants her brother to be there.

“I once had an emergency with my daughter, who was 2 years old at the time,” Ms. Matthews said. “In a state of panic, I called Nick instead of 911. He called emergency services for me then showed up after the ambulance arrived and assisted with getting an IV started in her tiny arm.

“As an aside, he had correctly diagnosed the issue just by my description over the phone. She had extremely low blood sugar out of nowhere (ketotic hypoglycemia). And that wasn’t the first time I had called him panicked over an illness in one of my children.”

She went on to say her older brother is “very funny, with a dry and typically sarcastic humor.”

“My fondest memories are summer trips to the beach collecting quarters under the Rehoboth boardwalk and spending hours in the arcades,” she said, of growing up with Nick. “We also played Wiffle ball with neighborhood friends, even though he would only let me be designated base runner and waking early on Christmas Day to sneak down the hall and look at our gifts under the tree.

“I’m sure we drove our mother crazy with our bickering, but at the end of the day would do anything for each other.”

She, and everyone else close to Mr. LaBrie, are doing everything they can right now.

Reach staff writer Mike Finney at 302-741-8230 or mfinney@newszap.com.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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