A Maryland mother-of-four who contracted coronavirus as she was nearing the end of her pregnancy has died just three weeks after giving birth to a baby boy she never even got to meet.
43-year-old Wogene Debele, an Ethiopian immigrant, was nine months pregnant with her fourth child when she tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted to the hospital.
Doctors were able to successfully deliver Debele’s baby boy three weeks ago, but she had to be separated from him immediately due to the virus.
She lost her battle with the novel coronavirus Tuesday (Apr. 21) before ever getting the chance to hold her newborn baby, who was named Levi.
It’s with a heavy heart I have to post this news of a beautiful Ward 5 resident. Wogene Debele transitioned to a better place after losing her battle with Covid-19. Please click the link to make a donation. She… https://t.co/cUZxkBjTk5
— Jarrett K. Smith (@JarrettSmith) April 22, 2020
Doctors have said that most pregnant women don’t appear to be at higher risk from the virus, and many show no symptoms at all, however, that was tragically not the case for Debele.
Mayor Kate Stewart of Takoma Park, Maryland, where Debele was a prominent member of the Ethiopian community, began the city’s virtual council meeting Wednesday (Apr. 22) with a moment of silence for the mother and her family.
“This evening, I’d like to start us off with a moment of silence,” she said while displaying a photo of Debele with her husband and three older children.
“Over the last few weeks, talking to family and friends, and especially today, one of the things that I learned is that her name means ‘my community, my people.’
“And you could tell by her smile in this picture. She meant so much to our community, our broader city… among the Ethiopian community in our city, and in her family. She meant a great deal and it is a tragic loss for all of us right now.”
Mayor Stewart’s daughter and Debele’s 17-year-old daughter attend the same high school. Stewart said she’d spoken with Debele’s daughter, who thanked everyone for their support.
“We will get through this health crisis—it will come to an end,” Stewart said. “Right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty. And we need to also look at what happens when we get through this.
“We need to remember all the support and love we’re giving now. Because this family is going to need us in the future. They’re going to need our support and our assistance, like so many families in our community.”
Friends of Debele’s family have started a GoFundMe to support Debele’s husband and children, and in less than 24 hours, the page raised more than $130,000 for the grieving family from more than 2,000 donors.
“Wogene was kind, joyful, and a source of strength to her family and to all who knew her,” the page reads.
“She leaves behind her husband Yilma Asfaw Tadesse, and her beloved children Mihret (17 years old), Naod (10 years old), Asher (4 years old), and the newborn Levi, whom she did not even have the chance to see.
“Wogene’s family needs our support now more than ever. Your generous donations will help her husband in his role as a single parent.”
Mayor Stewart remarked at how quickly the donations started to pour in.
“The thing that is really amazing, is if you look at the number of people who have donated,” she said.
“So there are donations of $5, $10, upwards of a few hundred dollars. It just shows that we need to be in this together and support each other.”
As of Friday, the GoFundMe has so far raised nearly $200K of its $250K goal.
Tebabu Assefa says he first met Wogene Debele last June when he invited her 17-year-old daughter to speak at an immigration solidarity rally.
“She was delighted,” he said of Debele. “And she was very grateful. And every time I ran into Wogene after that, she always gave me a profound smile.”
Assefa also talked about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect the way in which Debele’s family grieves.
“In the Ethiopian culture, people mourn for three, four, five weeks. And friends and family from near and far would come and live with you for several weeks and cook and pray and mourn with you. And they’ll be denied that,” he said. “That in itself is another issue. They can’t do that right now.”
Assefa said he’s now working with the City of Takoma Park to plan a virtual candlelight vigil for Debele’s family.
“To show them the love and support that they need,” he said. “I mean, on so many levels this thing is heartbreaking.”