LANCASTER - For families like the Hillards in Leola, it is a nightmare followed by frightening questions.
The nightmare: Their 6-month-old son, Camden, died in his sleep in February.
The questions: What happened? And does some unknown family medical problem threaten their surviving 3-year-old daughter, Cali?
Local doctors and medical authorities are taking the first steps to find answers to these kinds of questions by preparing for a new type of autopsy.
Called a molecular autopsy, it uses genetic testing to discover if there are inherited medical problems, usually heart-related, in victims who die suddenly.
Starting next month, the Lancaster County Coroner's Office will begin collecting blood samples, and soon after that, tissue samples, from everyone who undergoes an autopsy at the county forensic center.
The samples will be kept for possible later use for genetic testing for victims of sudden, unexplained deaths, particularly infants, children, and young adults.
The move is possible because the technology for genetic testing is more readily available and the costs are coming down.
"After Camden passed away, our immediate thought was if Cali had something, we wanted to find that out," said Camden's mother, Julie.
Lancaster County Coroner Stephen Diamantoni said coroners must take steps to have the proper samples for possible genetic testing. That led to his decision to start to routinely take blood and, eventually, tissue samples from those undergoing autopsies here.