The autopsy of Bobbi Kristina Brown — the daughter of Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown who died Sunday at age 22 — could prove to be particularly complicated for the Fulton County, Georgia, medical examiner’s office.
Even with the medical examiner releasing a preliminary report on Monday, the staff could very well find itself facing an uphill battle to determine the cause and circumstances of Brown’s death, because of the six-month period that passed between Jan. 31 — when Brown was found face-down and unresponsive in the bathtub of her Roswell, Georgia home — and her July 26 death.
Judy Melinek, M.D., a San Francisco-based forensic pathologist and author of “Working Stiff,” about death investigation, told TheWrap that a toxicology report could shed important clues, given Brown’s reported history of substance abuse. But it would be difficult to get accurate results after six months.
“Unless her blood was tested for drugs or medications at the time she was brought into the hospital, or specimens were saved by the hospital for the coroner, it may not be possible to know whether the blood levels would be consistent with a suicide or accident,” Melinek said. “Toxicology taken from her autopsy blood would not be useful.”
An additional problem on that front, Melinek said, is that hospitals “usually only test for the presence of drugs in the urine and don’t routinely analyze drug levels.”
It’s not known whether Brown was tested more extensively for drugs when she was admitted to the hospital.
At the time of her bathtub incident, she was found with bruises on her chest — bruises that, according to CNN, her boyfriend Nick Gordon said were caused when he attempted to perform CPR on her.
But an examination of those injuries would probably yield little information at this point, according to Melinek, because the bruises have likely long-since healed.
“It is unlikely that any trauma from the incident date would still be evident so many months later, unless there was some residual scarring,” Melinek said.
Joseph Haraszti, M.D., a forensic psychiatrist in Pasadena, California, was even more blunt about whether the autopsy will yield useful information.
“At this point, to do toxicology is useless; it doesn’t show anything,” Haraszti told TheWrap. “The bottom line is, I don’t think that much will be learned from her autopsy at this point.”
Haraszti noted that Brown’s body should have been examined “very carefully” for any signs of trauma, such as abrasions and needle marks, when she was first admitted to the hospital. And toxicology work at that point would have been essential upon her hospitalization.
“I certainly hope that when Bobbi Kristina was first taken to the hospital, that they would have drawn some toxicology right then and there.”
Haraszti noted that the treatment that Brown was receiving — life support, IV treatment tube-feeding — would have quickly removed traces of toxic substances.
“All of these fluids and sustenance and so forth that she was receiving for nearly six months would have diluted out any toxicology that she would have had in her system,” Haraszti said.
Luckily, he added, it would be “absolutely” typical for the hospital to have conducted a physical exam and toxicology for someone arriving under Brown’s circumstances.
“Here she comes, she’s a victim of a near-drowning, she’s found under somewhat suspicious circumstances… it sounds like it was a volatile, tumultuous relationship [between Brown and boyfriend Nick Gordon],” Haraszti said. “So given that, I think the hospital should have done some very thorough investigation from the get-go.”
In a release announcing the preliminary autopsy Monday, the Fulton County Medical Examiner conceded that the passage of time between incident and autopsy had caused complications.
“The time which had elapsed between the initial event on January 31st and her resulting death will complicate reconstruction of the events surrounding her initial unresponsiveness,” the medical examiner said in a statement. “Interpretation of autopsy findings and other information will also be challenging.”
The medical examiner’s office also said that the initial portion of the autopsy did not show “an obvious underlying cause of death and no significant injuries were noted,” adding that final test results to help determine a cause and manner of death would probably “take several weeks.”
According to Haraszti, one thing that could help medical examiners would be a psychological autopsy to determine what Brown’s mental state was and whether she was under any therapy or psychiatric treatment in the period leading up to the bathtub incident.
“That would contribute some very useful information, even if it’s done six months later,” he said.