Home Christian News Cause of Death Revealed for Dallas Pastor Bryan Dunagan, 44

Cause of Death Revealed for Dallas Pastor Bryan Dunagan, 44

Bryan Dunagan
Screengrab via YouTube / @ Highland Park Presbyterian Church

Texas pastor Bryan Dunagan, who passed away suddenly in his sleep last October at age 44, died from an interaction of alcohol with “two commonly prescribed medicines, in their regular therapeutic amounts.” The pastor’s family and church are sharing those details from the medical examiner’s autopsy report, saying they want to model “openness” and “authenticity.”

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Dunagan, a husband and father of three, served for 10 years as senior pastor of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, a 5,500-member congregation in Dallas. As a lacrosse player at Stanford University, he suffered a knee injury that continued to cause pain two decades later.

After his mom died while he was attending Stanford, Dunagan decided to pursue a career in ministry. He earned a Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and served at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta before moving to his hometown of Dallas.

Elder Adds Context to Bryan Dunagan Autopsy Report

In a statement posted to the Highland Park website, Dr. Robert J. Burke, an anesthesiologist and church elder, described Pastor Dunagan’s history of knee pain, for which he was prescribed Tramadol, a “common pain reliever.” After going for a run the afternoon before he died, Dunagan “took a Tramadol to relieve soreness in his knee,” Burke wrote.

“Additionally, Bryan had often mentioned—and even preached about—his anxiety. To help address this, Bryan was also prescribed a low dosage amount of sertraline, a generic version of Zoloft,” Burke continued. “The evening before his death, Bryan hosted family at his home for dinner and drinks. Early the next morning, Bryan was found unresponsive in his home.”

Ali Dunagan, the pastor’s wife of 15 years, requested an autopsy, Burke wrote, and a toxicologist also reviewed the records. The interaction of Tramadol, sertraline, and alcohol “resulted in a completely unexpected and unintentional cardiac and/or pulmonary event/reaction,” according to Burke.

He clarified that the finding of “mixed drug toxicity” doesn’t mean Dunagan abused drugs or alcohol, or that he overdosed, or that “anything untoward or improper occurred.” Instead, Burke wrote, “for inexplicable reasons, Bryan’s otherwise healthy body reacted in a surprising, sudden, and abnormal manner, resulting in his death.”

Pastor’s Wife: ‘This News Has Been Challenging To Process

In a Jan. 23 letter to congregants, Executive Pastor Jay Lee wrote that many people have been asking how Dunagan died. “What we’ve learned,” he said, “is that the Medical Examiner deemed the manner of Bryan’s death as accidental, which is a category that includes an extensive range of ways that loss of life can occur.”

Christians, however, “know that nothing happens by accident,” Lee added. “God gave us Bryan as a treasured gift here on earth; then God took Bryan away according to His divine timing.”