Ex-North Korea Detainee Otto Warmbier Suffered ‘Extensive Loss Of Brain Tissue,’ No Sign Of Botulism

Daniel Kanter (center right), medical director of the neurocritical care program in Cincinnati, speaks to reporters alongside doctors Jordan Bonomo and Brandon Foreman on Thursday. They say released U.S. student Otto Warmbier is in a state “best described as unresponsive wakefulness.”
John Minchillo/AP

Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student freed this week after more than a year in North Korean detention, sustained “extensive loss of tissue” in all parts of his brain, his doctors say.

Warmbier has remained in a coma since his return, suspended in a state “best described as unresponsive wakefulness,” Daniel Kanter, head of the neurocritical care program at University of Cincinnati Health, told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

Kanter and his colleagues say they’ve found no evidence that Warmbier, who has demonstrated no awareness of his surroundings, suffered from the effects of botulism — a finding that appears to contradict the explanation offered by his North Korean captors. Authorities there have said Warmbier fell into a coma after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill.

Instead, the doctors told reporters that the more likely cause of Warmbier’s condition is cardiopulmonary arrest. Their tests also did not reveal any signs of physical trauma to Warmbier, such as “acute or healing fractures.”

Earlier Thursday, his father, Fred Warmbier, said that North Korea’s regime had “brutalized and terrorized” his son for more than a year, and that he’s happy Otto Warmbier is now home. He said his son will now get the medical care that he was denied in North Korea.

As he spoke to the media Thursday, Fred Warmbier also said he was glad to be wearing the same jacket his son had worn during his court appearance in North Korea.

“I’m proud of Otto, and the courage he showed by going to North Korea,” Warmbier said, “and having that adventurous side to him … so the fact that he was taken and treated this way is horrible, and it’s tough to process. But we’re tremendously proud of him. So we’re looking to the future.”

“We don’t believe anything that they say,” Fred Warmbier said, describing North Korea as a pariah state. He said his son had become “fodder” for the regime, after being lured into visiting the country by a Chinese travel company that promised its customers were never detained while on a tour in the isolated nation.

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SOURCE: NPR – Bill Chappell, Colin Dwyer