Death Certificate: John Travolta's Son Died of a Seizure

Death certificate says teen died of "seizure"; autopsy report not released yet.

January 2, 2009, 5:51 PM

Jan. 5, 2009— -- Three days after Jett Travolta's death, mystery continues to surround the case of John Travolta's 16-year-old son.

Earlier today, two forensic pathologists, including an American physician, performed an autopsy in the Bahamas. Glen Campbell, an official with a Bahamian funeral home told The Associated Press that Jett's death certificate said he was killed by a "seizure."

He added that the body is in "great condition" and shows no sign of head trauma, even though police officials said the teen may have hit his head on a bathtub.

Campbell said the certificate came from the autopsy findings but revealed no information on the cause of death beyond the word "seizure."

Mark Smith, the Travolta family doctor, reportedly also attended the procedure.

Jett Travolta's body is now at the Grand Bahama airport en route for burial in Ocala, Fla., where the actor owns a home. The service is expected to be held Wednesday, Obie Wilchcombe, a family friend and member of the Bahamian parliament, told the AP.

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham sent condolences to the Travolta family and said the autopsy is a formality the country requires in cases of sudden death to rule out foul play.

"We look forward to them being able to have the autopsy today and for the coroner to be able to make a decision so the body can be released," Ingraham told reporters.

On Sunday, John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, issued their first public statement since Jett died Friday. He apparently hit his head on the bathtub during a seizure at their vacation home in the Bahamas.

"Jett was the most wonderful son that two parents could ever ask for and lit up the lives of everyone he encountered," said the statement posted on John Travolta's Web site. "We are heartbroken that our time with him was so brief. We will cherish the time we had with him for the rest of our lives."

After the autopsy, it's likely the parents, who are Scientologists, will have a church-inspired funeral for Jett, church observers say.

Late Monday, the Church of Scientology released a statement to ABC News detailing its views on death and funerals.

"In Scientology we believe that you have lived before and that you will live again," the statement said. "The spirit, which is you, is immortal and you are not your body. You as an individual are an immortal spiritual being and simply put, you have lived before and will live again, lifetime after lifetime. In Scientology these past existences are simply referred to as past lives.

"The Scientology funeral service celebrates the life of the person who has departed his body," the church's statement continued. "Friends and family have the opportunity to say goodbye, to acknowledge and thank the person for whathe or she has done in this lifetime, and to wish them well as they move on to their next lifetime. The service is a reaffirmation of the knowledge that we are immortal spiritual beings."

Stephen Kent, a professor of sociology and alternative religions at the University of Alberta and an expert on Scientology, elaborated on typical proceedings:

"Someone will give readings from [Scientology founder] L. Ron Hubbard, including possibly a eulogy. It will be difficult for Scientologists to talk about a young man's life. It's likely they'll talk more about his parents' love for him," he said. "Scientologists are flexible about whether the body or ashes must be present at the funeral. There can even just be a picture of the person. Certainly, non-Scientologists can come to the funeral."

"A Scientology funeral is likely to emphasize the movement of the thetan from attachment to this body to attachment to another body," Kent added. "The hope is that the thetan will come back in better times, with a better body, with a better spiritual nature."

Kent said he would expect Tom Cruise; Cruise's wife, Katie Holmes; and other members of Hollywood's elite Scientology contingent to attend. After the funeral, it's likely the organization will ask Travolta, his family and Jett's caretakers to undergo evaluations to banish any ill feelings about the tragedy.

A house caretaker found the teenager unconscious in the bathroom Friday morning, police said.

"A nanny attempted to revive him. All attempts were made, but he couldn't be revived," John Travolta's attorney Michael Ossi, who is also in the Bahamas, told Friday. "They tried as hard as they could to revive Jett."

An ambulance took him to a Freeport hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

The family, including Jett Travolta's 8-year-old sister, Ella, had been celebrating the New Year in the Bahamas.

Ossi said the teenager "has had seizures in the past, but they were controlled. This one couldn't be."

Royal Bahamas Police Force spokeswoman Loretta Mackey told the AP that Jett Travolta died from hitting his head on a bathtub.

Wilchcombe told the AP he expects a "quick resolution" for the autopsy.

Possible Role of Kawasaki Syndrome

Jett Travolta's health made national news in 2002 when his mother disclosed that at age 2 he had a poorly understood condition called Kawasaki syndrome, a collection of symptoms that stem from swollen arteries.

Kawasaki syndrome primarily affects children younger than 5, though it can occur in older children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about nine out of 100,000 children have Kawasaki syndrome. The incidence is higher among Japanese and Korean children, though the syndrome can occur within any ethnicity.

Kawasaki syndrome expert Dr. Robert Frenck, a professor of pediatrics in the division of infectious diseases at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, said the syndrome, however, is not usually associated with deadly seizures -- especially in children who have already recovered from Kawasaki's, which he said is a temporary condition.

"If there's a major complication, and if someone dies from it, it is a [coronary] aneurysm," he said. "It doesn't happen frequently, but that is what we really worry about. ... That can set the kids up for a heart attack."

The New York Post and other media outlets have in the past published unconfirmed reports that John Travolta's son had autism, though the family has always maintained that he suffered from Kawasaki's. Autism is associated with seizures.

"There is a relationship between autism and seizures; as many as 40 percent of children and young adults with autism may experience seizure and adolescence is a particular time of vulnerability," said Dr. Bryan King, the director of child and adolescent psychiatry at Seattle Children's Hospital's Research Center for Health Services and Behavioral Research.

"There are hormonal changes that could increase the risk of seizure, and certainly there are ongoing brain changes that take place during adolescence, but no one knows why the risk increases in older children."

Travolta's Tragic Loss

Regardless of the cause, Ossi said that the family is now grieving. He added that the incident "is the worst pain any parent can experience, the loss of child."

Speaking for John Travolta, Ossi said, "This is the worst day of his life."

Ossi said that Dr. Mark Smith, the Travolta family doctor, plans to give a statement after the autopsy.

In multiple interviews, John Travolta and Preston have always attributed their son's illness to carpet-cleaning products they once used in the house.

"It was about seven years ago, and I was obsessive about cleaning -- his space being clean, so we constantly had the carpets cleaned," John Travolta told Larry King in 2001. "And I think, between him, the fumes and walking around, maybe picking up pieces or something, he got what is rarely a thing to deal with, but it's Kawasaki syndrome."

"Jett's whole immune system shut down and he got really sick with high fevers -- 104 and 105. He developed a rash on his body and swollen lymph glands -- it was horrible," Preston told the U.K Mirror in 2004.

"Clearly, if anything about Jett's death could reflect badly on Scientology, the organization will go to great lengths to handle the problem," Kent said.

Scientology, the religion that John Travolta has followed for about two decades, believes psychiatric drugs and counseling cause damage.

In a 1999 news conference about his movie "The General's Daughter," Travolta disputed assertions that TV and films encourage kids to commit violent crimes and instead linked their cause to drugs.

"My personal thinking is that some of these murders have to do with drugs -- psychiatric drugs, street drugs," he said. "They've found a lot of common denominators are things like Prozac that are altering people's states of mind."

Preston, John Travolta's wife, also came to Cruise's defense in 2005, when he was criticized for his public attack on Brooke Shields for using psychotropic medication to ease her postpartum depression.

Late Monday, in a statement to ABC News, the Church of Scientology responded to critics who claim it does not promote medical treatment.

"Scientologists seek conventional medical treatment for medical conditions," the church said in a statement. "Scientologists use prescription drugs when physically ill and also rely on the advice and treatment of medical doctors. The Church does not involve itself in the diagnosis or classification of any medical condition."

ABC News' Eileen Murphy, Lauren Cox and Kirk Fernandes contributed to this report.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events