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Mormon youth leader dies on trek outing in Oklahoma

Meaghan Blair, 29, of Arkansas poses with her husband, Michael, and their two children. Blair died after experiencing health problems during a Mormon youth trek activity in Oklahoma on Monday, June 20, 2016.
Meaghan Blair, 29, of Arkansas poses with her husband, Michael, and their two children. Blair died after experiencing health problems during a Mormon youth trek activity in Oklahoma on Monday, June 20, 2016.
Courtesy photo

TULSA, Oklahoma — Monday's death of a 29-year-old mother of two provided a tragic tale of caution to the early part of trek season, when thousands of LDS teens around the world re-enact the Mormon pioneer exodus west.

Meaghan Lee Querry Blair of Rogers, Arkansas, began to experience problems near the end of a seven-mile hike through 95-degree heat Monday, the first day of the trek. She received immediate care and was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she died.

The cause of death has not been determined.

"We express our love and deepest sympathies to the family of Meaghan Blair," said Deborah Neria, spokeswoman for the Rogers Arkansas Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "This is a heartbreaking loss for the family and all who knew her. Meaghan leaves behind a husband, Michael, and two young children."

Blair and her husband Michael were serving as a "ma" and "pa" for a "family" of teens on the trek. Trek groups typically wear pioneer-era clothing, pull handcarts and discuss the sacrifices made by mid-1800s handcart pioneers who walked across the American plains to Utah.

Stake leaders, including Blair's father, took precautions against the heat at church-owned property near Pawhuska, Oklahoma, a local spokeswoman said.

The stake president, Greg Chandler, and one of his counselors, Brad Querry, who is Blair's father, nicknamed themselves "Headache" and "Nausea" to remind the group of the symptoms of dehydration, according to a pre-trek Facebook post by Chandler's wife, Valerie.

They monitored weather forecasts and altered the trek's schedule so Monday's hike started earlier, encountered additional shade and included swimming, Neria said. Still, several members of the group suffered what appeared to be heat-related problems.

The trek included a doctor and two registered nurses.

Blair is an organ donor, and doctors worked Monday night and Tuesday to provide her organs to others.

Family, friends and church members expressed shock, heartbreak and sadness at the news of Blair's death.

Chandler posted a statement from Blair's father on Facebook.

"It is with heavy heart and sorrow that we share the passing of Meaghan Lee Blair," Querry said in the statement. "Meg was the wife of her beloved husband Mike Blair, mother to Evelyn and Asher and (my) and Maureen's oldest daughter. We appreciate all of the expressions of sympathy and prayers. She lived an epic life of cheerful devotion to Mike and the kids. She was generous to a fault in life as she has been in death. While we are at this time unclear as to the next steps, we will communicate as we understand better. Thank you for your support and kindness over these last few hours."

LDS Church headquarters in Salt Lake City publishes a manual of trek guidelines that includes a mandate of 10 gallons of water for each handcart. A church website, safety.lds.org, outlines safe trek activities and includes training, preparation and safety videos.

Some LDS stakes in the southern United States beat the heat by moving treks to Christmas or spring vacations.

"Significant preparations were made," Neria said, "including having medical staff on hand. The whole thing is heartbreaking."

The role of the ma and pa on a trek is to lead "family" discussions and enhance the spiritual experience for the youths, build unity, encourage positive participation and maintain hydration and safety.

A family friend set up a crowdfunding web page to collect donations to help the family. The youcaring.com page for Michael and Meaghan Blair collected more than $6,000 of the $8,000 target in less than 24 hours.

Mormons in the Arkansas area turned to their faith as they worked to support the Blairs.

"Local church members have been in close contact with the family to offer their love and support," Neria said. "We pray that they will be blessed with God's peace and understanding as they deal with this terrible loss."

The president of a neighboring Bentonville Arkansas Stake, Simon Keogh, sent a message to area church members asking for prayers for the Blair family.

"I am asking that we unite our faith and prayers on behalf of the Blair family, the Querry family, President Chandler and all who have been affected by this tragedy," Keogh wrote, "that we will collectively ask the Lord to pour out comfort, healing and testimony-building faith upon our brothers and sisters in the Rogers Stake, that the power of Heaven will be made manifest to all."

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com