Otto Warmbier has returned from North Korea to the U.S. with what the doctors are calling extensive brain damage. CNN reports that at a meeting on June 6 in New York, North Korea’s U.N. ambassador told the State Department’s special representative for North Korean policy, Joseph Yun, that Otto was in a coma. He was released six days later. He has not spoken or moved on his own since his return. Doctors say he opens his eyes and blinks spontaneously, but that there is no indication that he understands language nor does he respond to verbal commands. It’s a condition they describe as “unresponsive wakefulness,” or a persistent vegetative state.
North Korea officials have stated that Warmbier fell into a coma shortly after his incarceration in March, 2016. They say that he suffered from botulism and then took a sleeping pill and that he had been in his current state since then. While botulism does cause nerve damage, despite numerous tests on Otto since his return on Tuesday, no evidence of botulism has been discovered.
Doctors indicate that Otto Warmbier’s current state is consistent with the aftermath of cardiopulmonary arrest that deprives the brain of blood. The Washington Post reports that physicians are not aware of anything in his history that would make him predisposed to this condition, but say that Warmbier could have suffered cardiopulmonary arrest as a result of intoxication, traumatic injury, or an overdose of medication (intentional or unintentional).
Two brain scans were sent home with Otto. They are dated April, 2016, and July, 2016, but there is no way of verifying those dates. Doctors say they are consistent, however, with Warmbier’s current condition. They explained that the body responds to a lack of blood flow to the brain by trying to remove the damaged areas. This removal is what Otto’s body seems to be attempting at this time.
Warmbier was found guilty in March, 2016, of “hostile acts against the state” for his attempt to steal a propaganda poster on his last night in North Korea before a scheduled trip to Hong Kong as part of a study abroad trip sponsored by the University of Virginia. After a trial that lasted about an hour, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. At that trial, Otto Warmbier described his actions as “the biggest mistake of my life.” Three other Americans remain detained in North Korea. The physical condition of those detainees is not known.
[Featured Image by Kim Kwang Hyon/AP Images]