This is a partial transcript from "On the Record," March 28, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Can an autopsy reveal what landed Terri in this tragic situation? Joining us from New York is forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden.
DR. MICHAEL BADEN, FORENSIC PATHOLOGIST: Hi, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, Dr. Baden.
VAN SUSTEREN: Hello, Dr. Baden. Dr. Baden, an autopsy — the two big questions is, No. 1, will it confirm her diagnosis by some, the persistent vegetative state and No. 2, will it show why she collapsed in 1990?
BADEN: Yes and yes. The autopsy, correlated with the medical findings, which the medical examiner in Pinellas County, Dr. Thogmartin, should be getting, will answer the question of whether — how much brain damage she has, whether it was a persistent vegetative state, what the cause of the coma was, whether it was due to trauma, as claimed by some, or due to a cardiac arrest 17 years ago, and also, whether there are any evidences of physical abuse, old or recent.
VAN SUSTEREN: If the reason that she collapsed was a potassium deficiency that caused a heart attack, would you expect that to be revealed at all in the autopsy?
BADEN: Yes because — indirectly because the potassium deficiency causes the heart to stop, and that causes lack of oxygen going to the brain. So the kind of brain damage caused by lack of oxygen, called hypoxia, is very characteristic and is different than brain damage caused by physical trauma.
VAN SUSTEREN: So — and this is solely a hypothetical for my own education. So if you grab someone around the throat, asphyxiate them, would that create a different type of brain damage?
BADEN: That kind of asphyxia, anything that causes a lack of oxygen to the brain, can cause hypoxic damage. So your scenario, if there was some kind of compression of the neck with a lack of oxygen going to the brain, that could cause a similar kind of brain damage as a cardiac arrest, but should show some evidence of neck damage.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now, of course, that’s just a totally hypothetical. There is no evidence of that whatsoever at all in this.
BADEN: Right. Right.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. In terms of the examination of the brain to determine the amount of brain damage, would you expect that her brain damage would have increased over the years, having simply been in this state?
BADEN: Yes. The loss of neurons, the loss of brain cells, would continue over the years, so that an examination of the brain 10 years ago might not show as much loss of brain substance as an examination today or tomorrow. But the nature of the brain damage would be the same, loss of neurons in the upper portion of the brain, in the cortex. And the lower part of the brain, that controls breathing and controls heart function, they’re still OK and they’re still functioning.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, Dr. Baden, you’re a doctor, you do this all the time, but it certainly seems rather — there’s something awkward about talking about an autopsy when the person isn’t dead.
BADEN: You’re absolutely right, and it’s awkward. And in this situation, though, the outcome is inevitable, as things stand now.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any possibility at all that this could be reversed?
BADEN: No. The brain damage can’t be reversed. That’s one of the debates over stem cell research, and Christopher Reeve's damage to his nervous system and the spinal cord, is when the liver cells die, they can regenerate. Kidney cells can regenerate to a certain extent. But brain cells can’t regenerate. In order in the future for us to get brains that are damaged to function again, we have to create new brain cells, and that’s one of the objects of stem cell research.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Dr. Baden, thank you very much.
BADEN: Thank you, Greta.
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