Freed North Korean prisoner Otto Warmbier suffered an extensive loss of brain tissue
WYOMING, Ohio (WKRC) - A college student from the Tri-State, who was imprisoned in North Korea but later released, suffered a severe neurological injury, according to UC Medical Center.
Otto Warmbier was sentenced to serve a 15-year sentence of hard labor in North Korea in March 2016 after allegedly committing the "anti-state act" of stealing a propaganda banner.
Otto's father, Fred Warmbier, said the day after Otto was sentenced, he fell into a coma. Otto was released Tuesday and flown back into the United States via MedEvac and is now at UC Medical Center with his mother.
Doctors held a press conference Thursday afternoon and said Warmbier has experienced an extensive loss of brain tissue in all areas of the brain. While they don't know the cause or circumstances, the doctors say it's a pattern usually seen with cardio pulmonary arrest in which the blood supply to the brain has been inadequate for a long period of time.
Warmbier has not spoken or made any purposeful movements. They say he's shown no signs of understanding language, recognizing verbal commands or being aware of his surroundings.
On Thursday, Fred held a news conference at Wyoming High School to update the public on Otto's condition. He said it's bittersweet because while he and his wife Cindy are happy their son is home, they’re also angry at the brutal way he was treated.
"There is no excuse for the way the North Koreans have treated our son," Fred Warmbier said.
Fred wore the jacket Otto wore for his confession in 2016. During the press conference, he also called on North Korea to release more American prisoners, saying he believes the country lures Americans there with travel.
Otto had gone to the country with a tour group, and his father said he was detained and taken hostage at the airport when he was trying to leave.
Otto's parents didn't even know he was in a coma until a week ago. The North Korean government says the 22-year-old contracted botulism and was given a sleeping pill, but Fred says they do not believe that's true. He said if it were true, there would be no reason to keep Otto's condition a secret and deny him better medical care for such a long time.
North Korea says they released Warmbier over "humanitarian" reasons. This is the first official comment from North Korea since he returned home. The state-run Korean Central News Agency did not comment on Otto's medical condition or how his release was negotiated.
Fred said he doesn't believe the North Koreans released Otto out of the kindness of their hearts, but he doesn't think they'll ever really know the reason why he was released. He did say he received a call from the president who said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson worked hard on getting Otto released.
“We are proud of the fact that our family is basically happy, positive people, and we’re going to stay that way. And we’re thrilled that our son is on American soil; we’re in the school that he thrived in and I'm able to talk to you on Otto’s behalf and that I'm able to wear the jacket that he wore when he gave his confession," Fred said.
We expect to hear more about Otto's condition from UC Medical Center doctors at 3 p.m.