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Westport woman's baby delivered after her sudden death

Westport News
Updated 5:09 pm, Wednesday, July 17, 2013

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  • The baby of Meskerem Legesse, 26, a Westport woman who ran for Ethiopia in the 2012 Olympics, was delivered after she collapsed and died Monday in a Hamden restaurant. Photo: Contributed Photo / Westport News
    The baby of Meskerem Legesse, 26, a Westport woman who ran for Ethiopia in the 2012 Olympics, was delivered after she collapsed and died Monday in a Hamden restaurant. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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Doctors and emergency crews delivered a baby after her 26-year-old mother, a marathon runner from Ethiopia who was living in Westport, died late Monday after collapsing in Hamden with another young child in tow.

Meskerem Legesse was at Hing Wah Chinese restaurant on Dixwell Avenue in Hamden when she suddenly fell to the floor. Restaurant manager Michael Cheng said video at the restaurant showed that the woman had been dragged into the restaurant by her young son.

"She sat down on a chair and, less than 10 seconds later, she collapsed," Cheng said, adding that she hadn't eaten any food before she collapsed.

Most sources have reported that the woman's name was Meskerem Legesse, a professional marathoner who ran in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Both Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Connecticut Medical Examiner's Office have her name listed as Meskerem Gebre, but the medical examiner's office confirmed that the woman who died was indeed a marathon runner from Ethiopia.

Emergency crews performed CPR on Legesse, who was three weeks away from delivering her second child. After she collapsed, she was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where officials said her time of death was 11:31 p.m. Monday, but offered no other details.

Charles Babson, general manger for ambulance company American Medical Response, confirmed that the baby was eventually delivered at the hospital. He said the effort was a collaboration among services, which included the Hamden police and fire departments.

"Even though it was a tragic outcome, (responding to these events is) what these guys are trained for," he said.

Legesse's children are now with their father and arrangements are being made to bring Legesse's body to Ethiopia, said Legesse's friend, Fatima Sene. Legesse was planning to get married to the children's father, she said.

"It is very sad. She was a very good person," Sene said. "She would do anything for anybody. And she loved that little boy she left behind."

A source at the medical examiner's office said the office was contacted about doing an autopsy, but declined because of the woman's health history. The source wouldn't elaborate, but Sene has said Legesse had heart trouble. The medical examiner's office said Yale is now scheduled to do the autopsy. The hospital would not confirm that, however.

Kassahun Kabiso, an Ethiopian elite runner who currently lives in the Bronx, N.Y., knew Legesse and was taken aback by the tragedy.

"She was a good person and a good athlete. That's why we're confused," Kabiso said of her sudden death.

It's relatively rare for a woman to die during pregnancy, according to the March of Dimes.

The organization showed that, between 2003 and 2007, there were 13.3 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births in the United States. The rate in Connecticut was even lower, with 8.1 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births.

Dr. Robert Stiller, section chief of maternal fetal medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital, agreed that it's unusual for women to die while pregnant. He said when a woman does die, there is generally an extenuating circumstance, such as the mother having uncontrollable high blood pressure.

When these incidents happen, Stiller said, "the key is to get the baby delivered within five minutes of the mother's death."

Staff writer Amanda Cuda, correspondent Meg Barone and the Associated Press contributed to this report.