The whole incident leading to Tilahun Gessesse’s death began to unfold some minutes after midnight after the Easter celebration on April 19, 2009.
That evening, the veteran singer, who had one of his legs amputated in 2005 due to gangrene, had been talking about past memories.
He had stayed up late chatting with his family members about how he had lost his right leg in South Africa; he also said he missed Menelik Wosinachew, his close friend and also a veteran singer, who passed away recently, according to Melaku Endale, one of Tilahun’s family members.
But the chat did not last long that fateful night; an hour or so later, the panic began. After he went to bed, he called his wife, RomanBezu, the mother of two of his children, Helen and Yonathan, and told her that he did not feel well.
He took his usual pills; nonetheless, minutes later, he started sweating and felt pain in his chest. That is when he was rushed to the nearby health facility, Betzatha Higher Clinic on Africa Avenue, where his family allege he did not get the proper medical treatment and attention from professionals. Being popular and admired by three generations did not get the legendary singer the oxygen he needed in the last seconds of his life.
Prior to that night, after having stayed for more than a year in Virginia, US, he returned home to celebrate the Ethiopian Easter with his friends and families. This trip was also meant to be the start of the recording of his planned new album.
The “King of Ethiopian Music” was conscious of what he was saying and doing in the last moments of his life.
“He told us to get him to the hospital,” Melaku told Fortune.
The medical staff, who were on duty at Betzatha Higher Clinic, could not give Tilahun any treatment, leaving his family members and him to panic, and he had requested the doctors to give him oxygen, according to his family.
“Get me the oxygen, let me breath once before I die,” were his last words.
Management of the private clinic relate a different story.
When the patient arrived, the clinic did give the primary medical help it could, a member of the management told Fortune. However, the unavailability of the clinic’s ambulance at that time and the incapability to lug the large size oxygen cylinder into the Mercedes Benz Roman drove her husband to the clinic in created a problem.
In addition, rather unfortunately, the smaller sized cylinders were out of oxygen and needed refilling.
Immediately after realizing that the case was a cardiac one, the doctors advised that Tilahun should go to the International Cardiac Centre, which is located around the newly completed Gotera Interchange.
Melaku refutes the explanation by the clinic management.
“The only thing I remember was a guy rushing here and there,” Melaku recalls. “He went out of the clinic’s compound and came back empty-handed without bringing anything with him.”
After driving for almost 30 minutes through Gotera’s “Confusion Square,” the fact was that since Roman had been out of the country for quite some time, they could not find the cardiac centre doctors at Betzatha referred to.
Nevertheless, then, they came across Senay Higher Clinic on Beyene Aba Sebsib Street.
They did not hesitate to make it their option to save Tilahun, a singer who started his musical career at the age of 13 at his cousin’s wedding, which then went on to span more than 50 years.
There were only guards and a few health professionals (not specialists) on duty to handle emergency cases like the one that caught Tilahun by surprise. But they were not of any help to Ethiopia’s highly celebrated singer.
“The worst incident he encountered was at this clinic,” Melaku said. “The doctor pointed to us that the big oxygen cylinder available, without a pushcart, could not be brought to the car because, by that time, Tilahun could not get out of the car.”
Around 3:30 in the morning, though, without getting any oxygen from the cylinders at both of the clinics, Tilahun passed away in his car.
Senay Clinic management declined to comment.
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