The Recently Released US Student, Otto Warmbier, Suffering From A Condition Known As Unresponsive Wakefulness

US Doctors Dispute The North Korean Claim of Botulism as The Reason Behind the Comatose State of The Recently Released US Student Otto Warmbier

A recently released North Korean detainee Otto Warmbier, who is now back in the US, is said to be suffering from “unresponsive wakefulness.” In this session, we will be learning about his present status and the information regarding his condition.

Warmbier’s Current Condition

The 22-year-old college student, who had been a North Korean detainee for around 2 years and recently freed from there, has suffered severe brain damage during his 17 months of detention, said doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The team of doctors, who are currently treating and supervising Warmbier, reported about his condition during a Thursday news conference.

They said that he is currently suffering from a state of “unresponsive wakefulness”.

What is unresponsive wakefulness?

Unresponsive wakefulness is a syndrome in which the victim has no any awareness of their surrounding environment, despite their eyes being open, blinking or looking around, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said.

“They just have no recognition,”

he said.

Source: Cannamagazine (Dr. Sanjay Gupta)

“They don’t speak. There’s nothing that is, sort of, voluntary in terms of movements, even though their eyes are open.”

The Cause Behind It

An MRI scan of Warmbier showed “extensive loss of brain tissue in all regions of the brain,” Dr. Daniel Kanter, professor of neurology and director of the Neurocritical Care Program at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, told the reporters.

This type of brain injury is generally seen as a result of the cardiopulmonary arrest, which prevents the oxygen from reaching the brain through the blood supply. This results in the death of brain tissues.

Source: (Dr. Jordan Bonomo (Left), a neuroscientist, Dr. Daniel Kanter (Center), Medical Director of the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit, and Dr. Brandon Forman (Right))

When the brain is deprived of oxygen for the time longer than 4 minutes during a cardiopulmonary arrest, the risk of injury and damage to the brain increases significantly, Dr. Robert Glatter told CNN. Dr. Glatter is an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.

“Brain cells require oxygen, carried by red blood cells, to survive, so when the heart or lungs are compromised, the cells may not survive,”

he said.

“The result of such an insult to the brain is a variable loss of brain function, including the capacity for (movement), language, vision, memory, comprehension, as well as the ability to maintain a general state of awareness.”

The Brain Function During This State

During the condition of unresponsive wakefulness, the brain functions that control involuntary processes such as breathing, heartbeat and blood pressure, urine production, metabolism, and digestion continue to go run, Glatter went on to explain. These routine functions of the body sometimes continue, as they are coordinated by different areas of the brain.

Source: CBS News (Dr. Robert Glatter)

While a person suffering this condition may sleep and wake up as usual as well as may open their eyes spontaneously, that person, however, is not truly conscious or aware of his/her environment as a neurologically normal individual would be, he said.


Some of the patients who suffer an anoxic and/or hypoxic brain injuries require care to restore the normal blood pressure and heartbeat so that to ensure a continuous supply of oxygen to the brain.

“Patients are placed on a ventilator and require medicine to reduce the risk of seizures, which are quite common after such an injury,”  

he said.

This is not the case for Warmbier however since he can breathe on his own.

Source: Daily Mail (Otto being led out of court in handcuffs)

The majority of the patients suffering from such condition require a chronic long-term care to address nutritional needs, prevent wound infections, urinary tract infections and pressure sores that can lead to sepsis; and avoid aspiration pneumonia.

Also read While North Korea Celebrates It Latest ICBM Missile Test, The Missile Lacks Re-Entry Capability Says South Korea

The Chances Of Recovery

The chances of full neurological recovery after the deprivation of brain of oxygen for extended periods of time, greater than 4 minutes, are poor, Glatter says. The long-term effects of the oxygen deprival depend on how long the brain lacked an adequate oxygen supply. Likewise, the amount of permanent brain damage that resulted from it also determines the long-term effects on the brain.

Also read US Military Successfully Tests THAAD Anti-Missile System In Pacific, Comes Amid Rising Tension With North Korea