Doctors: Otto Warmbier has severe brain damage, no sign of botulism

Otto Warmbier press conference
Published: Jun. 15, 2017 at 1:51 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 15, 2017 at 5:28 PM EDT
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Warmbier's care team at UCMC: Dr. Jordan Bonomo, Dr. Daniel Kanter and Dr. Brandon Foreman...
Warmbier's care team at UCMC: Dr. Jordan Bonomo, Dr. Daniel Kanter and Dr. Brandon Foreman (FOX19 NOW)
Otto Warmbier's father speaks to reporters at Wyoming High School Thursday. (FOX19 NOW)
Otto Warmbier's father speaks to reporters at Wyoming High School Thursday. (FOX19 NOW)

WYOMING, OH (FOX19) - The American college student freed by North Korea suffered severe brain damage during his 17-month detention.

Otto Warmbier was comatose but "well nourished" when he returned to his home state of Ohio Tuesday, doctors said.

Medical tests revealed little information on the mysterious circumstances that led to Otto's condition. However, doctors found no evidence to believe North Korea's claim that his coma resulted from botulism and a sleeping pill.

The 22-year-old is in a state of "unresponsive wakefulness" at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Dr. Daniel Kanter described.

Doctors say he is breathing on his own, doesn't show response to stimulation, shows no sign of understanding language or awareness of his environment.

He suffered extensive loss of brain tissue consistent with someone who has experienced cardiac or respiratory arrest, doctors said.  They declined to comment on his prognosis.

"We do see respiratory arrest from an overdose, medication overdose intentional or otherwise. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate about the intent of whether this was a mis-administration of medication," UCMC Dr. Jordan Bonomo said.

There were concerns Warmbier was severely beaten while in custody, but doctors found no signs of skull fractures.

A disc sent home with Warmbier is the only evidence of medical attention during his detention.

"There are two scans on the disc. They are dated April and July of 2016. Of course, we can't verify that," said Dr. Daniel Kanter. "His current scan is consistent with evolution of changes that were visible on those scans."

His father, Fred Warmbier, said Otto was treated brutally and held as a war criminal.

Warmbier's parents only learned of their son's condition last week.

"I'm proud of Otto and the courage he showed by going to North Korea and having that adventurous side to him and so the fact he was taken and treated this way is horrible and tough to processes, but we are tremendously proud of him," Fred said at a press conference at Wyoming High School Thursday.

The family has more questions than answers about what happened during Otto's detainment.

"North Korea is a pariah regime. They are brutal and terroristic.  We don't believe anything they say," Fred said.

Fred Warmbier thanked President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for securing Otto's release. The family received a phone call from the President Wednesday night.

The Obama administration advised the Warmbiers to "take a low profile" following Otto's detainment in January 2016, Fred said.

It is unknown why North Korea agreed released him, but Fred Warmbier claims it has nothing to do with Dennis Rodman's visit to the country this week. The former basketball star's trip was a "distraction," he said.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency on Thursday said the country agreed to release Warmbier over humanitarian reasons.

Warmbier was sentenced to a labor camp in March 2016 for "hostile acts" against the totalitarian government after he confessed to trying to steal a propaganda banner.

He attended Wyoming High School and the University of Virginia.

Otto Warmbier, Cincinnati native held by North Korea, comes home in a coma

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