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Best Post of January '09: Jett Travolta's fatal seizure unlikely related to Kawasaki's disease

Posted Mar 25 2009 3:13pm

The Jett Travolta Foundationhas been set up to help kids with various impairments since I published the following post on January 11, 2009:


Everyone has heard about the tragic death of 16-year-old Jett Travolta (pictured with his dad, actor John Travolta) presumably as a result of a prolonged seizure. It's also public knowledge that Jett Travolta suffered from Kawasaki's disease. It's unclear that there was a connection between Kawasaki's disease and his seizure disorder. There's some evidence, however, that there may be a connection between seizures and Jett's possible autistic disorder. The Travoltas reportedly didn't acknowledge the possibility that Jett had autism, perhaps because their faith (Scientology) does not recognize autism as a legitimate entity. An autopsy is being performed, the results of which are unlikely to be released. But I doubt that an autopsy would shed light on any of these questions anyway. An autopsy may show an anatomic substrate for a seizure disorder (cortical heterotopia, hippocampal sclerosis, etc.), but pathologists will not be able to make a firm connection between the seizure problem and Kawasaki's disease. And there is no way an autopsy can confirm autism.

Formerly known as the mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, Kawasaki's disease is an acute, febrile, multisystem vasculitic disease of children. The cause of Kawasaki disease is still unknown. It is currently the leading cause of acquired heart disease in children in the United States and Japan. Why heart disease? The coronary arteries get inflamed and compromise blood flow to the heart. (Source: Harrison's Principles of Medicine, 17th edition, 2008.) No mention is made in Harrison's textbook of Kawasaki's disease as a cause of seizure; nor have I ever heard of such a connection.

So, there are more questions than answers in this case; and I'm afraid that the pathologists involved will be of little help in answering these questions.

Thanks to my favorite Springfield, Illinois blogger, Marie of Disarranging Mine, for asking about this issue and prompting this post.
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