CINCINNATI (NBC) – Doctors say an American college student who was detained in North Korea is in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness.”
Otto Warmbier was returned to the United states and his home state of Ohio on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where doctors say he is in a coma but in stable condition.
Doctors say they do not believe Warmbier has any conscious awareness and they have not found signs of active botulism, a rare poisoning caused by toxins.
They say his brain shows significant tissue damage, but a cause for his disease is unknown.
During a public news conference on Thursday, Dr. Daniel Kanter of University of Cincinnati Medical Center said, “His vital signs were stable upon arrival and have remained so. He requires no supplemental oxygen or respiratory assistance. He has no signs of infection or dysfunction of the major non-neurological organs. His neurological condition can be best described as a state of unresponsive wakefulness. He has spontaneous eye-opening and blinking. However, he shows no signs of understanding language, responding to verbal commands, or awareness of his surroundings. He has not spoken. He has not engaged in any purposeful movements or behaviors.
“This study showed extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of the brain. We have no certain or verifiable knowledge of the cause or the circumstances of his neurological injury. This pattern of brain injury, however, is usually seen as a result of cardio pulmonary arrest, where the blood supply to the brain is inadequate for a period of time, resulting in the death of brain tissue.
“We did receive a few pages of laboratory value reports from North Korea, which are numerical values of various blood tests with dates. They did not, however, shed light on the circumstances of his injury or an exact cause.”
Dr. Brandon Foreman added, “We performed electromyography and nerve conduction studies. Those tests did not reveal any evidence of active or chronic denervation nor any repetitive stimulation that would suggest active botulism at this time.”
Doctors say North Korea officials told them Warmbier’s coma resulted from botulism and a sleeping pill.
The University of Virginia student was taken prisoner after he was accused of trying to steal a propaganda banner while visiting the country and luring Americans to the country with the false promise they will never be detained.
Warmbier was detained for 17 months and officials say he’s been in a coma for more than a year.