Courtesy of Travolta Family
Courtesy of Travolta Family
In light of Monday's autopsy finding that Jett Travolta, the 16-year-old son of John Travolta and Kelly Preston, died of a seizure, a medical expert tells E! News that seizures can cause death, even when the person who suffers one is taking medication to manage them.
"You can die during a seizure because of some manifestations in the brain," says retired forensic pathologist and former Detroit-area medical examiner Dr. Werner Spitz.
"It is not unusual that people die from a seizure disorder where the seizure disorder is known...If he has a known seizure disorder documented by medical records and he was treated as such, then that is almost a given."
"But you might not find an absolute cause of death when seizures are the cause," Spitz added. "The absolute cause would take at least two weeks so everything can be tested."
The Travoltas have not spoken publicly about Jett's medical condition since his death Friday in the Bahamas, but both had talked in the past about their son's battle with Kawasaki syndrome, a rare condition that affects young children but can cause heart problems later in life.
But, according to Spitz, complications from Kawasaki do not seem to be the culprit here.
"In this case, where you have a child with possibility of Kawasaki disease and a known seizure disorder, for which he allegedly got treatment, I believe that the death is the result of the seizure disorder," says Spitz. "Death from Kawasaki is at best unusual."
"The problem is we don¹t know why this seizure is the one that killed him," Spitz told E! "It could be because there was not enough medication.
"What they do with patients with seizure disorder is that they balance it from time to time to check whether the amount that is being given is correct and also whether he had been recently checked and it had been augmented or reduced needs to be looked at. Also, maybe he didn't take the last dose of medication, or maybe the surge of power was too big and overcame the existing level of medication in his body."
While police initially said last week that Jett hit his head on the bathtub after suffering an apparent seizure, his body showed no signs of head trauma.
"He might not have been fully unconscious and could have braced his fall with his hands stretched out," suggested Spitz, who served as an expert witness in Phil Spector's first murder trial last year and in O.J. Simpson's wrongful death case in 1997.
Also, a common cause of seizure-related death is suffocation, Spitz said.
"When you are convulsing, a person can bite down on their tongue and can also suffocate on their tongue from it rolling back and obstructing the airway," he said. "That's why they say it is a good idea to get a piece of cloth and catch the tongue and prevent that from happening."
Any bite marks or scars on Jett's tongue would have come out in the autopsy, Spitz said.
Official results have not yet been made public. The boy's body was due to be cremated in the Bahamas this evening and the remains handed over to his family tomorrow. A funeral service is expected to be held Wednesday in Florida, where the Travolta family has a home.