Far too often, coroners see victims of unexplained deaths. Families are left with grief and unanswered questions. Starting a week ago on May 1, Lancaster County is practicing a new high-tech autopsy that has the potential to answer those questions and possibly save future lives.
"I think the greatest utility of this testing are for infants that die suddenly and unexpectedly," Coroner Stephen Diamantoni said.
It's called a molecular autopsy. Investigators take blood samples from victims and preserve it in tubes and on filter paper. Down the road they can genetically test those samples, which will help solve other unexplained deaths or prevent other deaths from happening.
"Individuals can have certain genetic disorders they aren't aware that they have that predispose them to illness or sudden death," Diamantoni said. "We can provide some additional information to have other family members checked and evaluated to be sure they are not at risk for the same type of disorder that may have caused the death of one of their loved ones."
With the molecular autopsy comes more awareness and understanding.
"It's almost equally painful for that family member not to have any answers, sometimes for years, sometimes forever, as to why that death occurred," Diamantoni said.
Diamantoni said Lancaster is the only county in Pennsylvania that has started using molecular autopsies.
They can be pricey. Genetic tests can vary from hundreds of dollars to thousands.
York County Coroner Pam Gay says at the moment they are still learning about molecular autopsies, but plan on looking into it down the road.