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US Docs: Otto Warmbier Suffered Severe Loss of Brain Tissue in N. Korea

06-16-2017

American doctors treating 22-year-old Otto Warmbier, since his release from a North Korea prison, revealed his tragic condition in what is arguably a worst-case scenario.

Physicians at the University of Cincinnati Health Medical Center had the family's permission to release the details of Warmbier's condition at a news conference Thursday. Warmbier is from Cincinnati, but was attending the University of Virginia when he was detained in North Korea in January of 2016.

He arrived in Cincinnati earlier this week in a comatose state.  The doctors stopped short of saying his condition could be permanent. 

The North Korean government said Warmbier's injuries were caused by botulism.  However, the American doctors were quick to refute that, saying Warmbier did not have injuries that were at all consistent with botulism.

Instead, after conducting an extensive battery of neurological tests, the physicians determined Warmbier suffered severe brain damage while detained in North Korea.  

"His neurological condition can be best described as a state of unresponsive wakefulness," Dr. Daniel Kanter said. He further explained that his eyes open and blink but he does not appear to have any consistent thought, "no signs of understanding language, commands or surroundings," he said. 

The Ohio doctors reported extensive loss of tissue throughout Warmbier's brain.  When asked whether he will ever regain cognitive function, they reiterated the wide-reaching damage to the many areas of Warmbier's brain and declined to comment on whether the damage can be reversed or repaired, citing respect for the Warmbier family. 

The physicians determined Warmbier's injuries are the result of cardiopulmonary arrest, which is a condition brought on by the deprivation of blood to the brain.  That condition can occur in just a matter of minutes.  Cardiopulmonary arrest is typically caused by respiratory arrest, following a medication overdose or other type of error involving the administration of pharmaceuticals, although the doctors would not speculate specifically about what they believed might have caused the cardiopulmonary arrest.

Interestingly, the doctors said they found no evidence of fractures to the skull or damage to other bones.  It has been widely speculated that Warmbier's injuries were sustained from beatings from North Korean officials, however, the evidence thus far does not support that. They said Warmbier's skin was normal, not bruised, and he was well nourished. He showed no signs of infection or dysfunction of his major organs. The doctors did note, however, that marks on his skin would indicate he had an intravenous line.

They also told reporters they have had no contact whatsoever with North Korean medical officials and have no idea what type or quality of care he was given.  The American physicians said they did receive disc scans dated back in early 2016, but that the images on those scans were different from the MRI images on the scans they performed in Cincinnati.  

Warmbier was arrested at North Korea's Pyongyang International Airport, while visiting the country as a tourist with Young Pioneer Tours. He was charged with stealing the sign a hotel and committing "crimes against the state." 

At a different news conference earlier in the week, Otto's father Fred Warmbier said, "We went for 15 months without a word from, or about, Otto. It was only a week ago that we were informed that the North Korean government now claims he was in a coma for almost all of that time. Even if you believe their explanation of botulism and a sleeping pill causing the coma, and we don't, there is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition secret and denied him top notch medical care for so long. North Korea is a pariah regime, they're brutal and they're terroristic."

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