An American university student who was returned to the United States this week after being held in North Korea for 17 months has a severe brain injury and is in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness,” doctors said on Thursday.
Otto Warmbier, 22, who arrived in the United States on Tuesday, is stable but “shows no sign of understanding language, responding to verbal commands or awareness of his surrounding,” said Dr. Daniel Kanter, medical director of the neuroscience intensive care unit at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
“He has not spoken,” Kanter said at a news conference. “He has not engaged in any purposeful movements or behaviors.” He said Warmbier was breathing on his own.
Warmbier, from Wyoming, Ohio, has been in a coma since March 2016, shortly after he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in North Korea, his family said on Tuesday.
He was arrested for trying to steal an item bearing a propaganda slogan, North Korean media reported. He was visiting North Korea with a tour group.
On Thursday, North Korea said that it had released Warmbier “on humanitarian grounds.”
The University of Virginia student’s father, Fred Warmbier, said at an earlier news conference that his son had been “brutalized and terrorised” by the North Korean government.
Fred Warmbier said the family did not believe North Korea’s story that his son had fallen into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill.