Doctors at University of Cincinnati Medical Center who have examined Wyoming native Otto Warmbier delivered a grave assessment of the 22-year-old man who came back to Cincinnati this week in a coma after 18 months held in custody in North Korea.
Warmbier’s family learned this week that the University of Virginia student has been in a coma since March 2016, and the UC Health doctors said Thursday that he apparently suffered “respiratory distress,” and the oxygen supply to the brain was cut off.
“His neurological condition can best be described as a state of unresponsive wakefulness,” said Dr. Daniel Kanter, director of the neurocritical care program at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.
He can open his eyes and blink. But he does not appear to understand language and does not answer commands. His arms and legs have atrophied.
Kanter also said that when Warmbier arrived back in Cincinnati Tuesday night, his possessions included a disk that held two scans that North Korean medical providers took of him. One was in April 2016 and the other scan was in July 2016. The doctors said the scans chronicled the deterioration of Warmbier’s brain.
The review of Warmbier’s condition came at an afternoon news conference at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Reporters from around the world filled the Kresge Auditorium to learn more about the condition of the 2013 Wyoming High School graduate.
The news conference at UC came five hours after Warmbier’s father, Fred, spoke to reporters at his son’s alma mater with grief over their loss. He said the task for his family now is to keep his son comfortable.
At UC, Kanter was joined by neuroscientists Drs. Jordan Bonomo and Brandon Foreman. Also in the auditorium were Dean Thomas Ball of the College of Medicine and Dr. Richard Lofgren, chief executive officer of UC Health.
At the request of the family Kanter, Bonomo and Foreman refused to speculate how Warmbier came to be in a coma or about his prognosis.
They also said their tests revealed that he did not have any broken bones or marks on his body other than those that indicated medical treatment.
North Korea announced that Warmbier fell into a coma after he developed a case of botulism and then took a sleeping pill. The Cincinnati doctors said they found no indication of remaining botulism – but they also said it’s likely the toxin would no longer be in the body after more than a year.