Pregnant Olympic Runner Dies, Baby Saved

Meskerem Legesse collapsed suddenly at a restaurant

July 18, 2013, 11:11 AM

July 18, 2013— -- A former Olympic runner, who was eight months pregnant, died suddenly Wednesday at a restaurant in Hamden, Conn. Emergency personnel were able to safely deliver her baby at a nearby hospital.

Meskerem Legesse, 26, was getting takeout food from a Chinese restaurant with her 2-year-old son when she suddenly collapsed and died, according to The Associated Press. Paramedics and emergency crews were able to perform CPR on Legesse until she was taken to the Yale-New Haven Hospital, where the baby was delivered.

The hospital did not immediately respond to calls about the condition of the baby.

Fatima Sene, a friend of Legesse, said that she had suffered heart problems in the past.

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

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The cause of death has not been made public and according to the state medical examiner's office there are no plans for an autopsy.

Dr. Todd Miller, director of Sports Cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said that sudden death in athletes under 30 is often attributed to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a hardening of the heart muscle, or anomalous coronary artery, an irregular artery. Miller, who did not treat Legesse and does not know her cause of death, said underlying heart problems can cause fatalities even when a person is at rest.

"That's the paradox, sometimes [fatal events] happen during extreme exertion and sometimes they come out [when a person is at] rest," said Miller.

Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, said that underlying heart problems can be exacerbated by pregnancy.

"Anytime you're pregnant, it's like you're jogging when you're walking or you're sprinting when you're jogging," said Metzl. "It's just more strain."

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Legesse reportedly collapsed seconds after she sat down at the Chinese restaurant. Paramedics reportedly were there within minutes and started CPR.

Dr. Robert Barbieri, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston, said that the CPR could have helped save the baby by keeping the blood flowing. Barbieri, who did not treat Legesse, said if there is some blood flowing, doctors may have up to 30 minutes to deliver the baby.

Legesse was an accomplished professional runner, who ran in the first round of the 1500 meter race in the 2004 Olympics.The Associated Press has contributed to this report.