In Maryland, Wogene Debele Gave Birth Before Dying of Covid-19

Wogene Debele with her husband, Yilma Tadesse, and their children Naod, 10, Mihret, 17 and Asher, 4, at home in Takoma Park, Maryland. Wogene, 43, died Tuesday after giving birth to a newborn son, Levi, whom she never got to see. (Family Photo)

The Washington Post

She gave birth to a son before dying of covid-19. She never got to see him.

Wogene Debele was eight months pregnant when, coughing and weak, she decided to return to Holy Cross Hospital a second time. Before leaving her family’s small high-rise apartment in Takoma Park, Md., she turned to her two sons, Naod, 10, and Asher, 4.

“I’m just going to get a checkup. I’ll be right back,” her 17-year-old daughter, Mihret, later recalled her telling them.

That was on March 25, the last time Debele’s children would have her in their midst. On Tuesday, after nearly a month of struggle, first at Holy Cross in Silver Spring and then at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Debele died of covid-19. She was 43.

She left behind not only Naod, Asher, Mihret and her husband, Yilma Asfaw Tadesse, 50, but a newborn son, Levi. Born a month premature the day Debele was admitted to the hospital, the baby was whisked into the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), free of the virus, his mother unable to hold him or even see his face.

The family emigrated from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, almost a decade ago and quickly became a warm and familiar presence within the Washington area’s large Ethiopian community and among their Takoma Park neighbors. There, families in million-dollar bungalows live alongside immigrants and others of lesser means who occupy the Essex House apartments, where Debele and Tadesse raised their family. All their children go to school together and play on the same soccer teams.

That is how Anne Snouck-Hurgronje came to know Debele, a stay-at-home mother, and Tadesse, a Montgomery County school bus driver who sometimes worked more than one job. Snouck-Hurgronje’s son, Gabriel, and Naod are both in fifth grade at Piney Branch Elementary and have played soccer together for years in a local rec league and then a travel league…

Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart has publicly expressed sorrow over Debele’s death, beginning Wednesday’s virtual city council meeting with a moment of silence in her memory, and thousands have contributed to a GoFundMe fundraiser set up for the family.

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