Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment after he allegedly removed a political propaganda poster at a hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea.
After almost 17 months of confinement, the hermit kingdom freed the student on June 13 — however not before he went into a coma and suffered severe brain damage.
Warmbier was flown back to the United States, where a team of physicians undertook his medical care at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in Ohio. The doctors there said he is in a “state of unresponsive wakefulness” and showed no sign of “understanding language” or “awareness of his surroundings.”
It was learned only this week that he has been in a coma for more than a year.
North Korean authorities said the coma was a result of botulism and Warmbier taking a sleeping pill after the trial. However, after physicians conducted tests they found no signs of active botulism.
Dr. Daniel Kanter, medical director of the neuroscience intensive care unit at the University of Cincinnati, said it’s more likely the student’s condition was caused by cardiopulmonary arrest due to inadequate blood supply to the brain for long periods of time. In a young person, cardiopulmonary arrest can be caused by many things, including trauma or intoxication.
Kanter said his medical team has no direct contact with the hermit kingdom although they did send medical records, including imaging scans on a disk and blood test results. Some information was dated from April, however the Cincinnati hospital doctors said they had no way to verify the dates.
The reports sent by North Koreans do not shed any light on what caused the brain injury or its circumstances.
Hundreds of thousands of people, including children, are detained in the inhumane political prisons and other detention facilities in North Korea and forced to work in its mines. Many of these people have not committed any crime but are merely relatives of those who are considered guilty of crimes against the state.
Some prisoners have to dig their own graves, are buried alive and raped as punishment. Some of them simply disappear and are never heard of or seen again.