What Forensic Clues Determined Jett Travolta's Cause of Death?

This is a rush transcript from "America's News HQ," January 5, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

JANE SKINNER, HOST: Joining us now forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Anna Nicole Smith's son Daniel when he died in the Bahamas in 2007. Dr. Cyril Wecht, is here. Doctor, thanks.

I want to read to you and to our viewers what the Associated Press is reporting, what referred to that an official with the Bahamian funeral home is saying — that the document says he was killed by seizure. They say, though, it gave no other information than the cause of death beyond the word "seizure." What does that tell you?

CYRIL WECHT, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: Well, it tells me that they found no evidence of any internal trauma. The hematoma on the scalp was a bump when the boy fell to the floor, may have struck his head on the sink or the bathtub, and that subscalpular(ph) hematoma is of no consequence. It also tells me that they found nothing of significance internally such as a blood clot or some congenital heart condition which had never been diagnosed before.

Video: Watch Jane Skinner's interview

I had been predicting throughout the day that the most likely cause of death, based upon the reports I had read and heard, would be convulsive seizure disorder. People fail to understand why and how this can happen.

And simplistically, what happens is the brain, in a convulsive seizure disorder, which may have occurred 100 times before in someone who has been epileptic for decades, just on that particular occasion, unpredictably and inexplicably goes awry. The neural pathways that control the conduits to the heart and lungs get knocked out and the heart begins to beat irregularly and you die.

The tragedy here is we do not know the time from when the boy went into the bathroom Thursday evening until he was found Friday morning. And that could be ascertained by the pathologist in studying the tissues to see how much fluid had developed in the lungs and so on. I'm not second- guessing anybody, and I understand and from the little I know, find the diagnosis quite, quite valid.

As to the circumstances, I don't believe there's anything very suspicious or foul-play nature. I'm just saying that this is the kind of thing that can happen with someone who is susceptible to convulsive seizures of whatever kind, epileptogenic or from a traumatic brain injury or whatever. And on any given occasion, when they go into a convulsion, if there is not somebody there to immediately establish an airway, give oxygen and control the beating of the heart, that person may die.

SKINNER: Yes. It is such a sad story. And we may never know, I supposed, more about the timeline of all of this, as you referred to, because the family — they're not required to release this.


SKINNER: The government officials are not required to release any more details, right?

WECHT: No, they're not. Only if there were a criminal investigation would that kind of detailed chronological information come to be known. Otherwise, in a case such as this, where it is a natural death, then it is not deemed to be information that must be distributed to the public. And I doubt very much that this will ever be discussed by the family or by their attorneys or by the physicians involved.

It's something that can only be a subject of conjecture for now and in the future — a great tragedy, but not a rarity. We see people who suffer from convulsive seizure disorders, and the thing to be learned from this is that such a person must be carefully monitored with appropriate medication. They must be taken in timely fashion, never skipping and always being watched and observed to make sure that they don't have a seizure which then goes into cardio-respiratory arrest leading to death.

SKINNER: And Dr. Wecht, I guess that's another question that we may not know the answer to is, was this young man actually on medication for the seizures? There have been, you know, conflicting reports on what kind of condition he actually had.

WECHT: I have only heard and do not know personally that he was on Depakote. Depakote is a very commonly prescribed medicine for convulsive seizures, a quite proper and appropriate medication for this condition. Now, whether he was taking it scrupulously and so on - that is something that you and I will likely never know.

But he was taking Depakote, and so the thoughts, the conjecture that he was being ignored because of his father's religious beliefs and so on, I do not believe that that is well-founded.

SKINNER: Dr. Cyril Wecht, we thank you for helping us out with that news just developing out of the Bahamas.

WECHT: Thank you.

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