College Epi Law Honors Student Who Died in Allergy Tragedy 

in Features, Food Allergy, Food Allergy News
Published: June 24, 2024
Sydney Meegan

Sydney Meegan was a dynamo. A competitive swimmer from a young age, she liked to say, “I swim like lightning,” and a bolt became her favorite symbol.

Her mom Jessica Meegan clearly recalls Sydney’s electric energy and positive presence. Her eldest child was 18 and in her first semester at college when she tragically died from anaphylaxis on October 2, 2022.

“She always wanted to make sure she got everything out of each day,” her mom says. When not at a swim meet, you’d usually find Sydney soaring through the air on her show-jumping horse.

Meegan tells Allergic Living that she wants the light that her daughter radiated in life to shine on through efforts to make colleges safer for students with food allergies. Now Colorado has passed Sydney Meegan’s Law – requiring colleges and universities in the state to have epinephrine auto-injectors available. 

The law took effect in June 2023 and it “requires,” rather than just “allows,” colleges to stock epinephrine. Colorado is the first state in the U.S. to mandate stock epinephrine at the higher education level. 

Sydney, who had a severe milk allergy, was a freshman at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. The family was told that Sydney, unbeknownst to her, consumed something that contained milk.

The Larimer County Coroner’s office determined anaphylaxis was the teen’s cause of death following an autopsy. However, her mother says few details are known about Sydney’s allergy-related death in the Durward Hall residence on the CSU campus.

Not knowing exactly what happened the night of Sydney’s death adds to the parents’ pain in losing their daughter. In addition, Meegan says, “it’s hard to know where to advocate for change.” 

But that hasn’t stopped the family from Littleton, Colorado, from ensuring Sydney’s legacy helps other food-allergic college students. 

Sydney’s Law: College Epi Auto-injectors

The idea for the Colorado stock epinephrine college legislation came from Sydney’s high school best friend, Kennedy. Sydney was with Kennedy, who was visiting for the weekend, and some CSU friends the night she had the fatal allergic reaction, her mom says. 

Kennedy reached out to the Meegan family, suggesting this law to honor her best friend. Kennedy’s dad, Jefferson County Commissioner Andy Kerr, helped the Meegans navigate the state legislative landscape. Colorado State Senator Lisa Cutter and state representatives Brianna Titone and Brandi Bradley took up the cause. They sponsored the bill that would become Sydney Meegan’s Law.

A few other states have legislation allowing (but not requiring) higher education institutions to have stock epinephrine available, according to the nonprofit FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education).

Deaths due to food allergies are not common. However, research suggests that young adults with food allergies are at the highest risk for fatal anaphylaxis to food. The elevated risk for that age group “makes access to epinephrine a critical issue for colleges and universities,” FARE notes on its website.

Meegan wrote on Facebook about the law: “Young college kids with severe allergies, out on their own for the first time deserve this safety net.”

In addition to requiring colleges to have epinephrine auto-injectors on hand, the law requires each institution to have a policy about where the devices are placed. The focus should be “on areas where students gather in the largest volumes, including in dormitories and dining halls,” the law states.

“I am hopeful that it will make a difference someday for someone,” Sydney’s mom says about the legislation.

Teen’s Severe Coffee Reaction

Epinephrine auto-injectors had been part of Sydney’s life since she was diagnosed with a milk allergy after she reacted to yogurt at 6 months old.

Sydney (3rd from left) with parents Doug and Jessica Meegan and her siblings.

“She did not define herself by her allergy,” her mom says. But she made sure to take precautions – so she could enjoy each day to the fullest.

Sydney carried her auto-injectors, and was cautious about what she ate and drank. For example, her mom say there were certain restaurants that her daughter trusted to accommodate her allergy. She would ask servers to use new utensils for her meals, and carefully avoided foods when unsure of ingredients.

But one incident at a local Starbucks during her senior year of high school resulted in a trip to the emergency room from “a scary reaction,” Meegan says. 

Sydney was given a latte with cow’s milk, instead of the soy milk that she’d ordered. Her mom says the ensuing anaphylactic reaction required multiple doses of epinephrine. “She was frustrated with the fact that they [the coffee shop] didn’t seem to take it seriously,” Meegan says.

It was not uncommon for the Meegan family to encounter misunderstandings about the seriousness of a milk allergy. Throughout Sydney’s life, Meegan says people often disregarded the severity of her daughter’s life-threatening milk allergy and confused it with lactose intolerance.

Meegan hopes that Sydney Meegan’s Law will encourage colleges and universities to consider closely the challenges and risks that food-allergic college students face. 

“I hope they take this into consideration when designing nutrition, health and safety programs and policies for residential students,” she says. 

Sydney’s Tragic Death on Campus

Meegan says the Starbucks incident drove home to her daughter the need to be conscientious about her allergies when she arrived on CSU’s campus.

Sydney made sure her friends were aware of her allergy. She trained her roommate Lauren, whom she had known since kindergarten, on how to use her epinephrine auto-injector, and how to recognize an allergic reaction. 

She and Lauren made sure to shop for allergy-friendly snacks for their dorm room. Safe dorm room snacks were especially helpful when Sydney didn’t feel comfortable eating in the dining hall, Meegan says. 

But on the night of October 2, 2022, the college freshman suffered anaphylaxis in her residence hall. 

At the time, the student newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Collegian, reported on the efforts of the CSU Police Department and paramedics. “Upon arrival, paramedics performed life-saving procedures on the student, who was unresponsive and not breathing,” according to a university statement. “The student, unfortunately, did not survive.”

An outpouring of support followed news of Sydney’s death, describing her as a “bright soul”, “beautiful” and “confident”. Social media posts showed the impact she had on so many during her 18 years. 

Her obituary reads: “Her spirit, indescribable energy, and the positive influence she had on her family and friends will be greatly missed.”  

Fearless Rider, Caring Big Sister

When Sydney arrived in Fort Collins for her freshman year at CSU, “she was so ready to spread her wings and just fly,” her mom says. The teen often sent her mom excited texts. She described new college friends, fun at sorority rush week, and getting picked for the Chi Omega sorority. 

At home in Littleton, her mom cherishes memories of family time with Sydney, who she called the family orchestrator. For example, Sydney would organize plays for her younger siblings to perform at family gatherings, even making sets. 

In addition to her mom, Sydney is survived by her dad Doug, and siblings Kierney, Delaney, and Braden. “If Sydney could speak any words to me, she would tell me, ‘make sure to take care of the little guys,’” Meegan says.

Sydney, who started horseback riding when she was about 10 years old, was fearless when riding her horse Finley. She was in high school when she got the spirited horse. They were a perfect match, Meegan says. “She wanted to jump as high as possible. She was so confident,” her mom remembers.

Sydney’s Lasting Impact

In the water, Sydney was equally self-assured. Meegan says her eldest loved swimming from the time she was 3 years old. In competitive swimming as a teen, she excelled in the 50-meter freestyle, always making friends at swim meets. 

As a college student, Sydney had planned to coach swimming during the summer. Her summer swim team now has a “Sydney Meegan Legacy Award,” which is given for outstanding team spirit. 

The lightning bolt logo with Sydney’s initials “SEM” are on the parkas the Meegan family donated to Sydney’s high school swim team.

Members of the boys and girls swim teams at the teen’s former high school now have parkas with a logo containing the initials “SEM” for Sydney Elizabeth Meegan and a lightning bolt. Her family decided to raise money through a GoFundMe campaign, so they could donate the parkas to Chatfield Senior High School in her memory. 

“I think she would be really excited to know that the swimmers coming after her are getting to have that special piece of gear,” Sydney’s mom says. 

Lightning bolts are adorning more than parkas in her memory. Several of Sydney’s friends and family have paid tribute to Sydney by getting lightning bolt tattoos. 

The lightning bolt remains a visual tribute to the young woman who “wanted to live life at full speed,” her mom says.

Related Reading:
College Roommates: How to Have the Food Allergy Talk
New York’s Stock Epi Law for BallParks, Big Venues
Video: Managing Food Allergyi Anxiety with Dr. Linda Herbert

Cover photo: Our Family Clicks Photography, Marlo Butler