Doctors, family dispute North Korea story over released US student′s coma | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 16.06.2017
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North Korea

Doctors, family dispute North Korea story over released US student's coma

Contrary to North Korean claims, doctors treating Otto Warmbier have said the 22-year-old's coma was induced by respiratory arrest and a lack of oxygen in the brain. Warmbier was released from a Korean prison on Tuesday.

Doctors treating an American college student released from a North Korean prison this week have disputed the reclusive state's story over what caused him to fall into a coma.

Otto Warmbier, who was imprisoned for 17 months in North Korea, had suffered extensive tissue loss in all regions of the brain, Dr. Daniel Kanter, director of the neuroscience intensive care unit at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, said on Thursday. The injury is thought to have been caused by respiratory arrest cutting blood supply to the brain, although doctors said they are unaware what might have caused it.

Read more: US student released from North Korean prison 'in coma'

That refuted claims made by North Korea that Warmbier had fallen into a coma after contracting botulism, a rare, serious illness caused by contaminated food or a dirty wound, and being given a sleeping pill. Kanter said there was no sign of botulism in Warmbier's system.

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Confession in North Korea

The 22-year-old University of Virginia student was flown back to the United States on Tuesday following a rare diplomatic intervention by the US State Department in the reclusive state. 

Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison by North Korea's Supreme Court in March 2016 after tearfully confessing to trying to steal a political banner from a hotel.

Speaking to reporters, Kanter declined to give specific details on the 22-year-old student's prognosis at the family's request, stating only that his condition was stable but that he "shows no sign of understanding language, responding to verbal commands or awareness of his surrounding."

Family fury at North Korea regime

The student's father, Fred Warmbier, said he had only been made aware of his son's condition a week ago.

"I don't know what being in shock is, but I'm pretty sure I was," he said. "Even if you believe their explanation of botulism and a sleeping pill causing the coma - and we don't - there is no excuse for any civilized nation to have kept his condition secret and denied him top-notch medical care for so long."

USA Nordkorea freigelassener US-Student erlitt neurologische Verletzung | (picture alliance/The Cincinnati Enquirer/AP/S. Greene)

Otto Warmbier was seen being carried off a plane in Cincinnati after being evacuated from North Korea

Speaking at Otto's old high school in Wyoming on Thursday, Fred Warmbier called his son "a fighter" and said the family feels "relief that Otto is now home in the arms of those who love him and anger that he was so brutally treated for so long."

Fred Warmbier also revealed that the family received a "very nice phone call" from US President Donald Trump on Wednesday, who reportedly told him that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had worked tirelessly to secure Otto's release. The family said it was "extremely grateful for their efforts and concern."

He also called for the immediate release of other Americans imprisoned in North Korea.

Read more: Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman heads to North Korea 'to open the door'

dm/cmk (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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