Sat, Jun 17, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Student freed by N Korea has brain damage: doctors

COMATOSE:US doctors found no evidence that Otto Warmbier has botulism, but has injuries consistent with respiratory arrest cutting off oxygen to the brain


The school colors of blue and white are displayed in front of Wyoming High School in support of Otto Warmbier in Wyoming, Ohio, on Thursday.

Photo: EPA

A US college student who emerged from prison in North Korea in a coma has severe brain damage, but doctors do not know what caused it, a medical team treating him in Ohio said on Thursday.

The doctors described Otto Warmbier as being in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness,” but declined to discuss his outlook for improvement, saying such information would be kept confidential.

“He has spontaneous eye opening and blinking,” said Daniel Kanter, director of neurocritical care for the University of Cincinnati Health system. “However, he shows no signs of understanding language, responding to verbal commands or awareness of his surroundings. He has not spoken.”

Warmbier, 22, is listed in stable condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was taken after his arrival in Ohio late on Tuesday after more than 17 months in North Korean captivity. The reclusive nation accused the University of Virginia student of anti-state activities.

His father, Fred Warmbier, said the family was proud of him, calling him “a fighter.”

The elder Warmbier said he did not believe North Korea’s explanation that the coma resulted from botulism and a sleeping pill. US doctors said they found no evidence of active botulism, a rare, serious illness caused by contaminated food or a dirty wound.

He said there was no reason for North Korea to keep his son’s condition secret for more than a year and to deny him top medical care. Warmbier’s condition apparently deteriorated shortly after he was sentenced for subversion in March last year.

Kanter said the young man suffered “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of the brain.”

Doctors said his injuries are consistent with respiratory arrest cutting off oxygen to the brain, but they do not know what caused it.

Doctors said they examined Warmbier’s body and saw no evidence of fractures that might be evidence of severe beatings.

The family feels “relief that Otto is now home in the arms of those who love him and anger that he was so brutally treated for so long,” his father said at Wyoming High School, where Warmbier graduated in 2013 as class salutatorian and played soccer.

Blue-and-white ribbons in the school’s colors were tied around trees and utility poles all the way along the city’s main road in a show of support.

To honor his son, Fred Warmbier wore the jacket his son wore when North Korea presented him before the media on Feb. 29 last year, at an event in which he tearfully confessed that he tried to steal a propaganda banner while visiting the country.

Otto Warmbier was sentenced the following month to 15 years in prison with hard labor.

Fred Warmbier said that he does not know why North Korea released his son, but that the country does not do anything out of “the kindness of their hearts.”

He called on Pyongyang to free three other Americans detainees.

In its first official comment since Warmbier was returned home, North Korea said it released him for humanitarian reasons. The state-run Korean Central News Agency on Thursday did not comment on his medical condition.

Warmbier’s father also accused North Korea of luring Americans to the country with a Chinese tour company making the false promise they will never be detained.

He said he received “a very nice phone call” on Wednesday from US President Donald Trump, who said US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson worked hard to bring Otto home.

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