Death Comes for the Pastor
A 44-year-old star minister in Dallas dies suddenly in his sleep.
Almost exactly one year ago I attended the funeral of one of my oldest friends who died suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack at 53. A few days later, on a trip with Dr. McCullough to Cabo, I got a call from an old surfer buddy in Maui who’d heard I was there. He was all excited because he was flying to Cabo the next week and wanted to talk me into extending my trip.
“It’s gonna be awesome man!” he exclaimed with his characteristic enthusiasm. “We’ll go surfing, hiking, and tequila tasting. You gotta stay!” It was with a very heavy heart that I told him that my schedule just wouldn’t allow it. My consolation was that I would see him at my brother’s fiftieth birthday on Maui the following week. A few days later my friend died of a heart attack at 54.
Recently I’ve been thinking about my two old friends on the anniversary of their early deaths, and I still sometimes can’t quite believe that they are gone. Yesterday I woke up to the news that the brilliant young pastor of my local Presbyterian church had died in his sleep. This is a catastrophe not only for his widow and young children, but for our entire community.
According to multiple witnesses with whom I spoke yesterday, Reverend Dunagan had a gift for conveying that the Christian God has not forsaken mankind, but is alive and among us. All we have to do is pay attention and listen.
“The guy was an absolute star,” my youngest brother told me. “He was such a gifted speaker that he singlehandedly rejuvenated the church and awakened the interest of tons of young people in attending Sunday service.”
I thought of him being a great speaker, and how that contrasted with the apparent absence of anyone speaking out to ask, “Why did a 44-year-old man in peak physical condition die suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep?”
I spoke with a few people about it, and everyone seemed to agree that the young man’s death is so shocking and solemn that it just wasn’t the right time to inquire about the cause.
I pondered this all afternoon, and contrasted it with how the community would react if he had been murdered by an unknown offender. In the latter case, most people would loudly demand a full investigation to determine who was responsible.
How strange that in cases of young men dying suddenly and unexpectedly, our society feels that the appropriate response is silence.
After struggling with my conscience for the better part of two hours, I finally decided to post the following on Facebook, knowing that many people in the congregation would see it:
I was saddened to hear the news that Rev. Bryan Dunagan, who served as Highland Park Presbyterian Church’s senior pastor for nine years, has died at 44. Reverend Dunagan was a brilliant, graceful, luminous young man. By numerous accounts he was exceptionally fit and a dedicated practitioner of clean living in body and soul. I therefore found the official press announcement that he “passed away in his sleep due to natural causes" rather puzzling. Prior to the year 2021, the sudden and unexpected death of a fit young man was an extreme rarity. Since then, it has become a shockingly common occurrence.
One of my closest friends in Dallas is a prominent cardiologist who has questioned official orthodoxy about medical matters since 2020. I cannot mention his name on Facebook because doing so would result in the automatic shadow banning of this post. In my friend's practice, he now regularly sees young, athletic men who have been afflicted with myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart, after receiving a product that was widely introduced to mankind in 2021.
He also frequently receives reports of adolescents and young men and women suddenly and expectedly dying in their sleep. Though autopsy is rarely performed in these cases -- apparently because medical examiners don't want to know the cause -- when autopsies are performed, they often reveal inflammation and or scarring from previous inflammation. At around 3:00 a.m., rising adrenaline sets in motion a fatal arrhythmia.
Obviously, I do NOT know if this was the case with Reverend Dunagan, and nor do I even know if he received the novel product in question. My suspicion that this could be the case can only be confirmed or ruled out by means of a thorough postmortem examination by a pathologist who has been trained to recognize the syndrome that is sometimes induced by this product. New histological stains are now available that enable the pathologist to detect the foreign protein that causes this inflammation in cardiovascular tissue.
My cardiologist friend, who attended service at HPPC for many years, is probably now the world's foremost authority on this syndrome. He would be happy to discuss this syndrome with members of the congregation who would like to learn more about it and consider measures that COULD help to prevent more young men and women from dying.
Last night I woke up at 3:00 a.m. with an Emily Dickinson poem running through my head.
Silence is all we dread.
There's Ransom in a Voice --
But Silence is Infinity.
Himself have not a face.
The poet conceived silence as not only death, but also an absent God who never speaks to us.
Surely the time has come for communities and medical examiners to stop being silent about the sudden and unexpected deaths of young people, but to speak openly about the need to INVESTIGATE them. Perhaps deaths such as Pastor Dunagan’s—over thirty years shy of life expectancy for an American man—are statistical anomalies and have nothing to do with the new product that was introduced in 2021. The only way to find out is to investigate them.