Just six days after arriving back in the United States in a coma, Otto Warmbier has died in a Cincinnati hospital, after being released by North Korea where he had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in prison for allegedly attempting to steal a poster from a hotel. Warmbier went into a coma shortly after being imprisoned.
On June 12, 2017, Rex Tillerson, the United States Secretary of State, announced that North Korea had released Warmbier. Tillerson also announced that the U.S. State Department secured Warmbier’s release at the direction of President Donald Trump. Tillerson said that the State Department continues discussing three other detained Americans with North Korea, according to Wikipedia.
Warmbier’s parents told Washington Post that Warmbier was medically evacuated, saying they were told by North Korean officials that Warmbier contracted botulism sometime after his trial and fell into a coma after being given a sleeping pill. They learned he was in a coma only one week before his release. Richardson was in contact with the family and said Warmbier urgently needs medical attention.
After 17 months away, Warmbier was flown from New Chitose Airport to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport and then to Cincinnati Municipal Lunken Airport where he arrived shortly before 10:20 p.m local time on June 13, 2017, and was rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where doctors tried to determine what caused his coma and if there were signs of recoverable brain function. Prior to his arrival, a doctor with the Cincinnati Health Department discussed Warmbier’s case and expressed skepticism over the claim that botulism or a sleeping pill caused the coma. Otto’s father Fred believes that North Korea intentionally “terrorized and brutalized” his son.
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His father reported that he had received a call from President Trump at his home asking about the welfare of his son and the family. He expressed that he had a kind and nice conversation. He also reported that Secretary Rex Tillerson and U.S. special representative Joseph Y. Yun had made the transition possible.
Medical condition and death
On June 15, 2017, physicians at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center stated that Warmbier had suffered extensive brain damage, which is consistent with a cardiopulmonary event rather than a head injury, and there was no sign of physical abuse. Warmbier’s father held a press conference that day, but declined to answer a reporter’s question as to whether or not the neurological injury was caused by an assault, saying he would let the doctors make that determination. He stated that they did not believe anything the North Koreans had told them.
Neurologist Daniel Kanter, director of the neurocritical care program at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, said in a press conference on June 15 that the 22-year-old Warmbier was in “a state of unresponsive wakefulness”—a condition commonly known as persistent vegetative state. He was able to breathe on his own, and blink his eyes, but otherwise did not respond to his environment. Magnetic resonance imaging revealed he had suffered extensive loss of brain tissue throughout his brain.
Kanter stated that Warmbier’s brain injury was typical of a cardiac arrest that caused the brain to be denied oxygen. Doctors also said that they did not find any evidence of physical abuse or torture; scans of Warmbier’s neck and head were normal outside of the brain injury. Doctors said they did not know what caused the cardiac arrest, but that it could have been triggered by a respiratory arrest.
Some medical records from North Korea were sent back with Warmbier, revealing he had been in this state since April 2016, one month after his conviction. Fred Warmbier expressed anger at the North Koreans for his son’s condition, saying, “There is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition secret, and denied him top-notch medical care for so long.”
Warmbier died on June 19, 2017 at the hospital. His family issued the following statement:
It is our sad duty to report that our son, Otto Warmbier, has completed his journey home. Surrounded by his loving family, Otto died today at 2:20pm.
It would be easy at a moment like this to focus on all that we lost — future time that won’t be spent with a warm, engaging, brilliant young man whose curiosity and enthusiasm for life knew no bounds. But we choose to focus on the time we were given to be with this remarkable person. You can tell from the outpouring of emotion from the communities that he touched — Wyoming, Ohio and the University of Virginia to name just two — that the love for Otto went well beyond his immediate family.
We would like to thank the wonderful professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who did everything they could for Otto. Unfortunately, the awful torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans ensured that no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today.
When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again, within a day the countenance of his face changed — he was at peace. He was home and we believe he could sense that.
We thank everyone around the world who has kept him and our family in their thoughts and prayers. We are at peace and at home too.
Fred & Cindy Warmbier and Family