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Wyoming Grad Has Extensive Loss Of Brain Tissue

Ann Thompson
(from left) Dr. Daniel Kanter, Dr. Jordan Bonomo, Dr. Brandon Foreman, all neurologists at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, explaining Otto Warmbier's condition.

After a battery of tests, doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center say Otto Warmbier, recently released from a North Korean prison, is in a state of unresponsive wakefulness, meaning he shows no signs of understanding his surroundings and he has not spoken.

The Wyoming High School grad suffered extensive loss of tissue in all regions of the brain but they don’t believe it's due to head trauma. Instead, Dr. Jordan Bonomo believes it could have been triggered from a lack of oxygen.

He explains, "We do see respiratory arrest from overdose, from medication overdose, intentional or otherwise. It would be inappropriate for me to speculate about the intent or whether this was a misadministration of a medication. Again, we have very limited information about what happened prior to his departure from North Korea."

That limited information comes from a brain scan that accompanied Warmbier on his way home. According to Dr. Daniel Kanter, the MRI dates from April, 2016.

"Based upon our analysis of those images, the brain injury likely occurred in the preceding weeks. At the request of the family, information regarding his prognosis, prospects for improvement, and future care and treatment will remain confidential," he says.

In the few days since the 22-year-old has been back in the U.S., his parents have been at his bedside. They say they're relieved their son is back in Cincinnati in the arms of those who love him. But they're angry he was brutally treated for so long. At a news conference Thursday morning, Fred Warmbier said he only learned a week ago Otto was unconscious and had been for more than a year.

"I know you have many questions about what transpired, so do we. We have few answers. There's no excuse for the way the North Koreans treated our son."

Warmbier says he worked behind the scenes with U.S. and Swedish officials to get his son out. He made more than a dozen trips to Washington D.C. relying on what he calls false promises from the Obama administration that the North Koreans would treat Otto fairly and let him go. He thanked the Trump administration for getting the job done, and had this message for the North Korean government.

"I would say, I'm so proud of Otto, my son, who has been in a pariah regime for the last 18 months, brutalized and terrorized and he's now home with his family. And I'm tremendously proud of Otto. His spirit is with us and I can share my spirit with his spirit and I'm just so happy with that."

Fred Warmbier called on North Korea to release other Americans being held there. He said no family should have to endure what his has.

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.