Jett Travolta’s Death: Beyond the Media Coverage

Jan 7, 2009 5:01am

By DAN CHILDS, ABC News Medical Unit

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, a Google search revealed 5,971 results for news stories featuring the term “Travolta.” This was little surprise, considering the intense news media spotlight on the death of 16-year-old Jett Travolta in the Bahamas Friday.

Since the news was announced, the ABC News Medical Unit has spoken to experts in a variety of medical specialties for comments on what could have caused the boy’s death.

We heard back from several of these experts, but one response that stood out was from Dr. Nancy Minshew, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Pittsburgh. While we initially expected that Minshew’s expertise in the area of autism research would be a boon to our reporting, it was her experience as a parent who had lost a child that resonated with us.

Here are excepts from Minshew’s message, reprinted here with her permission:

“I don’t know what anyone can say about this death, except that it is every parent’s worst nightmare and it is just the beginning. Who cares what caused it?

“The phone call from out of nowhere — the police or the hospital call to ask: ‘Are you the parents of…’ It happens suddenly. It happened to me. My son died in a car wreck six years ago, and I got a call at 4 a.m. You suddenly become a member of a not-so-small club you can never resign from, and that will grieve you until you die. It will cause you to question your most fundamental beliefs.

“I would like to say these parents will feel better soon, but they won’t. Maybe in two years or three they will feel better, but not this year or next year. And not before they question every thing they did or did not do. … Every invasion of their privacy with speculation about cause will cause pain. Empathy would help. That is all I can say about that.”

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