The American student who was imprisoned in North Korea for more than 17 months and finally returned home to Ohio last week has reportedly died. The details of his time in captivity inside the secretive nation have been both sparse and conflicting, leading many to wonder how Otto Warmbier died and if the cause originated while he was imprisoned.
The 22-year-old student had gone to North Korea on a tour and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for trying to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel, according to the BBC. It was revealed last week that Warmbier had reportedly been in a coma for a year while he was detained. North Korea said the coma was due to botulism — a rare and very serious form of food poisoning caused by a toxin — but American doctors who assessed Warmbier when he returned home disagreed with this diagnosis, the BBC reported.
Doctors from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said last week that Warmbier suffered from injuries related to cardiopulmonary arrest and was in "a state of unresponsive wakefulness" as scans showed "extensive loss in all regions" of his brain, according to ABC News.
The BBC reported that he had suffered severe brain damage as a result of cardiopulmonary arrest and had to be medically evacuated from North Korea last week to be treated in a hospital in his home town of Cincinnati.
Although his family did not say what Warmbier's cause of death was, they did blame his death on what they called "the torturous mistreatment" he had received at the hands of the North Koreans that "ensured no other outcome was possible beyond the sad one we experienced today," according to a statement issued on behalf of his parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier.
"When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13 he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable — almost anguished," the statement said. "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."
The American doctors' diagnosis of cardiopulmonary arrest, an abrupt loss of heart function, can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. It occurs when the heart's electrical system malfunctions and, as a result, is not able to alert the heart to beat, according to the American Heart Association.
Doctors also said he had Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome, which is a result of a traumatic brain injury and causes the brain to "halt the ability to create thoughts, experience sensation, and remember past events," according to USA Today.
While chances of recovery are poor for patients with these conditions, treating him might have been even more difficult as doctors need to know as much as possible about the nature of the injury. And because they don't know the exact cause of his neurological injuries that presumably led to his serious medical condition, it's not likely that doctors will be able to give a full answer about Warmbier's tragic death any time soon.