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By Argen Duncan
Rio Rancho Observer
Editor’s note: This article has been reprinted with permission from the Rio Rancho Observer.
A Rio Rancho couple, who grew up in Los Alamos, is trying to help hospitalized children in memory of their daughter, who died for no obvious reason.
Megan Dugan was almost 21 months old when she died in her sleep in February. Her mother, Jennifer Dugan, a 1992 graduate of Los Alamos High School, said medical examiners have run tests but found nothing to explain the death, making it likely to be classified as Sudden Unexplained Death of a Child (SUDC). Her father is Tim Dugan, also a 1992 graduate of LAHS.
“A big part for me now is making sure people don’t forget her,” Jennifer said.
She’s also trying to do something good, to find a meaning in Megan’s death, by helping patients at the University of New Mexico Children’s Hospital get teddy bears.
“It’s got to be really hard on families in the children’s hospital — their kids are sick,” she said.
Jennifer set up a “teddy bear legacy” for Megan at mamabearsplace.com. When people donate money for bears in Megan’s name, Donna Luke of Albuquerque prepares them with tags noting who they’re honoring and takes them to the children’s hospital.
Jennifer is trying to bring in 640 bears, the same number of days she had with her daughter, by May 27, the birthday Megan shared with her twin brother, Matthew. The week of April 14, Jennifer helped deliver 117 bears, honoring Megan, to the hospital.
The bears come in pairs that cost $33-$57 each, and lambs and dogs are also available. Donors can have one sent to someone they know and one to UNM children’s hospital, or both to the hospital.
Jennifer said Megan loved stuffed animals and smiled at every one.
“She was super happy,” Jennifer said. “She loved to dance and twirl. She took care of her brother.”
Megan was also starting to try to read.
Feb. 23 seemed like normal night, Jennifer said. Megan, who had no health problems, was dancing and playing.
The next morning, Jennifer’s husband, Tim, took their two older boys — Dillon, then a day short of 16, and Travis, 14 — to play paintball for Dillon’s birthday.
About 45 minutes later, with Matthew already up, Jennifer went to wake Megan.
Alone except for Matthew, Jennifer found her daughter was deceased. Paramedics confirmed there was no life in Megan’s body.
“I never knew perfectly healthy children go to sleep and never wake up,” Jennifer said.
SUDC affects 1 in 100,000 children, generally 1 to 4 years old, Jennifer said. It’s a cousin of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, which impacts babies up to a year old.
Jennifer and Tim worried about Matthew, but a pediatrician’s examination showed he was healthy.
Matthew had a hard time the first few weeks after Megan died, Jennifer said. Now he doesn’t seem to know what’s happened, although he smiles when he hears his sister’s name and seems to miss her.
“They were best buddies,” Jennifer said.
The loss has been very hard on Jennifer and Tim. The older boys are busy and managing.
When Megan died, Jennifer said, she kept thinking about all the things her daughter would never do. Dillon told her she had to remember all the things Megan did get to do.
Jennifer appreciates that he can focus on the good times with Megan, “our little princess.”
To donate in Megan’s honor, visit mamabearsplace.com and select “Registered Families” on the left side of the home page. Click on the “Pair of Bears” link under Megan’s name.
Jennifer receives notification of those who donate.