Autopsy Report for Unexpected Death of U.S. Congressman’s Daughter
Gwen Casten tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 roughly a month after infection.
I obtained the autopsy reportsfor Gwen Casten, the 17-year-old daughter of U.S. Congressman Sean Casten (IL-6) who died unexpectedly in June.
After a months-long investigation, chief pathologist Dr. Hilary Strawn McElligott said Ms. Casten’s death was caused by a “sudden arrhythmogenic cardiac event of a natural but unspecified etiology,” which matches the Casten family’s announcement last week.
My interest in the findings comes from a desire to provide factual information to people who still have questions about Ms. Casten’s tragic death.
I lack the medical background to speak knowledgeably about every aspect of the autopsy; readers with relevant expertise, in particular, can review the report and comment.
Some things I notice speak directly to rumors & conjecture I’ve heard over the past few months.
Ms. Casten was fully vaccinated (Pfizer) and had received a booster in December 2021.
Ms. Casten visited a doctor in March 2022 for “chronic right-sided thoracic back pain”.
Ms. Casten is reported to have had covid-19 with “minor” symptoms in mid-May 2022.
Ms. Casten is reported to have consumed two Truly hard seltzers at a gathering with friends. As far as I can tell, toxicology did not detect significant levels of alcohol or illicit substances.
A postmortem nasal swab was positive for SARS-CoV-2. Pathologist Dr. McElligott commented,“Only minor changes consistent with virus respiratory infection were seen at autopsy, as the majority [of] examined lung tissue appeared both grossly and microscopically unremarkable.”
Postmortem blood cultures were positive for “Clostridium species sordellii and septicum without antemortem or postmortem evidence of sepsis.” Dr. McElligott commented, “While the presence of these bacterial organisms is highly unusual in postmortem blood cultures, there is no evidence to support sepsis or widespread bacterial infection in the antemortem period or at autopsy.
Regarding the death scene, Deputy Coroner Keri Mederich observed, “Ms. Casten's bedroom appeared to be very clean and orderly as if she had been living this way. Nothing appeared to be disturbed in the bedroom. A damp washcloth was observed on the back of a pillow that Ms. Casten's head was resting on. There was a plastic trash bag hanging off of a desk, near the head of the bed. The bag was free of debris or fluids. The washcloth and trash bag were reported to be unusual. Additionally, the bathroom next to Ms. Casten's bedroom light was on and the toilet seat was up (appeared unused) which appeared to be unusual, per family.”
The August 13, 2022 death of another Downers Grove teen appears on page 6 of the investigative report, though it’s not clear why.
I’m also intrigued by the “COVID-19 QUESTIONNAIRE” at the end of the case narrative, because it appears to be a set of standard inquiries for death investigations in DuPage County. If these questions have been asked of every inquiry in the coroner’s jurisdiction, I would like to see the aggregated data. (Indeed, I’d like to see data for question 4 for all Illinois deaths, regardless of cause.)
Sadly, Ms. Casten is the second pediatric cardiac arrhythmia death in DuPage County in 2022. The first occurred in January.
This weekend, another Chicago-area teen collapsed suddenly and died at a show choir event being held at Naperville North High School. Cause of death has not yet been determined.
Updates (10/19/22): A reader in the comments directed me to this report of a Geneva High School student collapsing at a homecoming dance earlier this month. GHS is in Kane County (Ill.), next to DuPage.
Another reader reached out via email about the sudden death of a 17-year-old Bremen High School athlete during a basketball game in February. The Cook County Medical Examiner lists cause of death as “congenital coronary artery anomalies.”
Portions of the reports that are blacked out were redacted by me. All other redactions are those of the coroner’s office.
I’ve forwarded the report to several doctors and will update this post with additional noteworthy observations.
To date, DuPage County has had no deaths under age 20 attributed to covid-19.
My original post said August 15, 2022, which was the date of entry in the report. I’ve corrected the date to reflect date of death.
This may relate to the governor’s April 17, 2020 executive order related to testing and holding cadavers.
Jessica-I have just found your posting and I’m intrigued for personal purposes. My son’s girlfriend, whose primary residence is in Cook County in northwest suburbs, died suddenly and unexpectedly while at college in Colorado in early December. The rumors, like Ms Castens, were that it was drug related. But it wasn’t…she was an otherwise happy, healthy, vibrant young woman, 17 years old, that was packing for a trip to see her boyfriend (my son) in another state. After talking to my son, her mom, and a friend with excitement for her flight and trip, she never made her flight and within less than 2 hours of talking to all she was found collapsed and dead in her room next to her packed bag. We are still a week away from autopsy results, and thank you for informing us all that coroner related autopsies can be located thru FOIA access for a fee.
Several “experts” have asked if she had a previous covid infection or had a recent booster…they have also asked about ventilation systems in her dorms. They have even directed all to refer the similarities to Ms Casten.
Nothing brings these young people back to life, but some closure and inspection on the causes may prevent other deaths so I thank you for posting your investigation. It’s been a very difficult past month for my son, her family, and mine. Godspeed Jessica.
Poor girl, sounded like she felt quite ill but thought it was a stomach virus or something mild…didn’t want to wake her family. God rest all their souls.