Thursday, September 24, 2009

John Travolta admits his son had autism

From ABC News:

John Travolta took the stand Sept. 23 to testify against two people accused of trying to extort $25 million from the actor in the aftermath of his son's tragic death.

With his actress wife Kelly Preston looking on inside a Bahamas courtroom, Travolta said that he performed CPR on his son after a nanny alerted him the teen had fallen ill at a family vacation home on Grand Bahama island. The chronically ill Jett Travolta (pictured), 16, later died from a seizure.

"I ran downstairs with my wife to help my son," Travolta said, according to the Associated Press. In his testimony, he said he and Preston were awakened by a nanny around 10:15 a.m. on Jan. 2, the day of Jett's death. Travolta said when he went downstairs, another caretaker was doing chest compressions and he began administering breathing help.

The actor testified that his son Jett, 16, was autistic and suffered seizures every five to 10 days. He said the seizures would last 45 seconds to a minute and Jett typically slept for 12 hours after each one. "He was autistic. He suffered from a seizure disorder," Travolta told the jury when asked about his son's condition.

The testimony was apparently the first time that Travolta has talked publicly about his son's autism. In the past he had said Jett suffered from Kawasaki disease, a rare condition in children that involves inflamation of the blood vessels.

Some studies suggest up to 25 percent of children with autism also have a seizure disorder, according to Dr. Marcie Hall, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

"In neurologically-normal children with epilepsy, the risk of death is actually no different than for children without seizures," said Dr. Shlomo Shinnar, director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Management Center at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Seizures statistically become more deadly when combined with neurological conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy or mental retardation.

Travolta testified at the trial that began Monday for the two defendants - a paramedic and former Bahamas senator - who allegedly tried to blackmail Travolta with private information following the death of his chronically ill son, Jett.

Today is believed to be Travolta's first visit to the country since Jett died on Jan. 2 after suffering a seizure at the family's vacation home.

The actor is among the 14-person list of potential witnesses in the case before the New Providence Supreme Court where a nine-member jury was empanelled Monday.

The actor's last minutes with his son were described by Tarino Lightbourne, the paramedic who drove them to the hospital and was later accused in the extortion plot.

"It was me, him and Jett," Lightbourne told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Jan. 5. "I'll never forget this day. I saw him lean over and hug his son and kiss his son and tell him he loved him and I did everything I could. I saw love in his eyes, I saw love. [Travolta] hugged him, put his arm around him, kissed him on the forehead and the cheek and told him he loved him. He then turned to me and gave me a hug and said, 'You guys did a wonderful job.'"

Within weeks, authorities arrested the man who provided that touching description. Lightbourne was charged with attempted extortion and conspiracy to extort.

Bahamas Sen. Pleasant Bridgewater was also arrested and charged with conspiracy to extort.

Each has pleaded not guilty and is free on bail. Bridgewater later resigned from her office.

The extortion charges involve the pair's alleged plan to release a document if Travolta and his wife, actress Kelly Preston, did not pay them $25 million.

The paperwork they allegedly threatened to release is a "refusal to transport," which someone would sign when refusing emergency medical services, thereby releasing first responders from liability.

But police said no such document was ever signed in this case.

A police officer testified Tuesday that Travolta signed the release because he initially wanted his son taken to the airport instead of the hospital.

Outside the courthouse on Monday, Bridgewater's attorney told APTV that without Travolta, there is no case.

"He has to be here, he has to come and give evidence," said Murrio Ducille. "Without him, the prosecution cannot get off the ground, because he is the complainant."

Lighthourne's defense attorneys have asked the court to order the prosecution to turn over documents, including the autopsy report, the statement from Travolta's nanny and phone records, which they say they have not yet received, despite repeated written requests.

Defense counsel Carlson Shurland had already expressed his concerns about the fairness of his client's trial, earlier in the year.

"Our anxiety has to do with all of the adverse publicity that this case has been getting," said Shurland in a February interview with The Freeport News. "In light of all of that publicity we doubt seriously that we will be able to find an impartial jury in The Bahamas simply because everybody has an opinion."

One party that has shied away from all publicity until recently is the Travolta family.

John Travolta did not join his co-stars over the summer in promoting "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3." Actor Denzel Washington told "Good Morning America" in June that his co-star was still in a "tough situation."

Travolta posted a message to his colleagues on his Web site at the time: "Their unselfish efforts have allowed my family the additional time to reconcile our loss."

And last month, Preston decided to pull out of the October women's conference hosted by California first lady Maria Shriver, where she was to host a session on grief and resilience.

In a statement to People magazine, Preston explained her withdrawal: "I am sorry, but I truly believed that I could do it. Otherwise I never would have said that I could. But I am still deeply in the process of healing, and it's just too soon."

The family's first public appearance was only two weeks ago when the couple and daughter Ella attended Disney's D23 Expo to promote their upcoming film "Old Dogs."

Travolta and Preston are not the first celebrity targets of alleged extortion plots. Rob Lowe, Bill Cosby, Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, basketball great Michael Jordan, model Elle Macpherson, singer Celine Dion's husband Rene Angelil and the late Michael Jackson have all been the target of alleged schemes to extract thousands or millions of dollars, though none of these cases involved the death of a child.

The Bahamas courthouse where the trial is scheduled is no stranger to high-profile cases. Almost three years ago, it was the scene for the official inquest after the death of Daniel Smith, the son of the late Anna Nicole Smith.