Wheaton native 'made the world a little bit better for everyone'

Updated 11/3/2018 5:25 PM
  • Wheaton native Meghan Liddy had been living and working in Africa for nearly five years and was planning to adopt sisters Priscilla, left, and Rhoda when she succumbed recently to complications from malaria.

    Wheaton native Meghan Liddy had been living and working in Africa for nearly five years and was planning to adopt sisters Priscilla, left, and Rhoda when she succumbed recently to complications from malaria. Courtesy of the Liddy family

From the moment Meghan Liddy set foot in Africa nearly eight years ago, her heart found its home.

"She struggled more when she would leave Africa than I did when she first went there," said Meghan's mother, Maryann Liddy. "That's how I knew she belonged there."

The 25-year-old Wheaton native's first trip to Africa was a church mission to Uganda when she was 18. When she came home, she immediately began working to be able to go back. Five years ago, the 2012 Wheaton Warrenville South High School graduate went back permanently.

"She raised something like $20,000 in order to go back and live there and work with a nongovernmental organization that helps children," said Meghan's aunt, Trisha Hume Steele. "She loved it there. You could really tell it meant something special to her."

Eventually, her work would lead her to the other side of the continent in Ghana, where she co-founded an organization that helps find funding for children to have medical procedures they would not be able to afford otherwise.

Almost immediately after arriving in Ghana, Meghan also made another major life change. She began fostering two young sisters with medical needs of their own and whose mother had died.

For the past four years, Meghan had been raising and caring for 11-year-old Rhoda and 8-year-old Priscilla.

"Nothing that she did ever really surprised me," Maryann Liddy said. "But there was an element of surprise that she wanted so much responsibility at such a young age."

Meghan was in the process of finalizing the girls' adoptions when she contracted malaria recently, her family said. The infection became much worse than normal and began attacking her organs. Meghan died Friday with the two girls by her side, along with many of the friends and co-workers she had met since moving to Ghana.

On Halloween, Meghan posted a message on Facebook asking for prayers and thoughts as she battled the disease.

"It's kind of seriously kicking my butt," she wrote.

Her family has started a GoFundMe page to help offset the cost of getting her remains from Africa to Nebraska, where Meghan will be buried on a family plot. The fund has raised more than $5,000 of its $20,000 goal. It could be weeks before the family can retrieve Meghan's remains.

Meghan was last home in April. Her mother remembers talking to her about all the bureaucratic hoops her daughter needed to jump through in both America and Ghana to adopt the two girls.

"Meghan went through a lot of pain herself in life but was never someone who was afraid to fight, love and find compassion for people who were hurting," her mother said. "Her heart just became really big for others."

One of her best friends, Rachel Mniszewski, said she and Meghan became instant friends working together at a restaurant when they were still in school. Because of the physical distance between the two, Mniszewski said she was worried that it would be years before Meghan would meet Mniszewski's daughter when she was first born. But one day shortly after the child's birth, Meghan surprised her longtime friend with a knock on her door.

"Meghan made you want to be a better person. Everyone that heard her story saw her as brave, loving, generous, and extremely caring," Mniszewski said. "Meghan dedicated her life to helping others. Her overall positivity could change anyone's day. Her hugs were the kind you wanted to hold onto for an extra second. Her smile and her contagious giggle, will be missed greatly."

The fate of the two girls Meghan was planning to adopt is unknown at this time, Maryann Liddy said. Meghan also had begun fostering a little boy with cerebral palsy shortly before she died.

"That is really the most heart-wrenching thing about all this," she said. "We just don't know enough about it. We're hoping next week to find out more."

Always led by her faith, Meghan's mother said her daughter's lasting impact on this world will be her work and the organization she started. She finds solace in knowing that.

"Someone said to me that she did more in her 25 years than most of us will do in our entire lifetime, and I believe that," Maryann Liddy said. "I really do find some peace and am so proud of how she made the world a little bit better for everyone."

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