After being imprisoned for 17 months in North Korea, 22-year-old Otto Warmbier was returned to his home in Ohio this week.
On Thursday, doctors at Cincinnati Medical Center spoke publicly about his condition. It is, technically, “stable”—though that could sound misleadingly positive. His heart is not in imminent danger of stopping, but stability does not mean Warmbier is poised to lead a life that involves movement or communication.
Rather all evidence presented by his doctors yesterday indicates that Warmbier is much closer to death than he is to the University of Virginia student he was in early 2016, when he took a recreational trip to Pyongyang. There he was arrested in the airport for a “hostile act” against the government and last seen shortly after, in the news conference pictured above.
His doctors yesterday described Warmbier’s most recognizable sign of life as “spontaneous eye-opening and blinking.” That means not only is he not communicating, he does not open or close his eyes when asked to do so. He does not show signs of awareness.
Based on magnetic resonance images of Warmbier’s brain, his status is not likely to substantively improve. The scans showed “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of his brain.” That means his brain was deprived of oxygen and/or blood for a long time, and tissue died everywhere—much the same process that happens to brain cells in a particular area of the brain when a person has a stroke, everywhere.