Doctors caring for Otto Warmbier, the US student detained by
North Korea and medically evacuated to his family in Cincinnati
on Tuesday, have said that his condition has caused serious
damage to his nervous system and that North Korea’s explanation
for his condition doesn’t hold up.
Doctors described Warmbier as in a state of “wakeful
unresponsiveness,” saying that he has not communicated or
voluntarily moved since being reunited with his family.
His condition could lead to long-term damage of his nervous
system, which doctors said will likely never return to full
functionality. The coma has led to “profound weakness” in his
muscle tissues, according to the doctors.
Warmbier has been serving a 15-year sentence for “anti-state”
activities, which he was sentenced to after attempting to take
down a propaganda poster in his hotel.
The trial took place over a year ago, and Warmbier is thought to
have entered the coma in the weeks after the trial.
Though the medical staff caring for Warmbier “have no verifiable
information about what happened to Otto,” they say Warmbier’s
type of injury usually comes from cardio-pulmonary arrest, or a
stoppage of the heart and lungs “resulting in the death of brain
The story volunteered by North Korean officials — that Warmbier
suffered from botulism (a kind of food poisoning), took a
sleeping pill, and never woke up — could not be verified and did
not hold up to medical scrutiny, the doctors said.
While botulism does cause nerve injury, doctors said that tests
conducted “did not suggest any history of botulism.”
The damage to Warmbier is apparently limited to his nervous
system, with no evidence of “acute or healing fracture,”
suggesting that Warmbier wasn’t severely beaten, the doctors
Upon arrival from North Korea, Warmbier was “well-nourished” and
his skin was in “good condition,” according to the doctors.
Warmbier has been around his family continuously since his return
to the US.
Fred Warmbier, Otto’s father, held a press
conference earlier on Thursday wearing the jacket Otto wore
in North Korea as he stood trial. The elder Warmbier expressed
mixed feelings about his son being home.
“I would like to highlight this morning the bittersweet feeling
that my family has: 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,” Fred Warmbier said.
The doctors added: “The Warmbier family has shown incredible
courage, strength, and compassion. On behalf of the medical
staff, nurses, and associates of the University of Cincinnati
Medical Center, I can say it is our privilege to care for their
son and brother.”