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Experts sound off about Otto Warmbier's condition after he was released from N. Korea

Experts sound off about Otto Warmbier's condition after he was released from N. Korea (Photo provided by the family)

DAYTON, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - The exact details of what happened to Ohio native Otto Warmbier while he was imprisoned in North Korea may never be released, but he is now home, laying in a coma at a Cincinnati Hospital. The 22-year-old's damaged brain is starting an international debate.

"This pattern of brain injury is usually seen as a result of cardio pulmonary arrest," said Dr. Daniel Kanter, one of Warmbier's doctors.

The North Koreans blame the man's coma and brain damage on botulism and sleeping pills, but Warmbier's doctors disagree.

"Those tests did not reveal any evidence that would suggest active botulism," said Dr. Brandon Foreman at UC Health.

The illness is rare in the U.S. Dr. Jason Pickett at Miami Valley Hospital said the country sees about 150 botulism cases, 75% of which are infantile. Dr. Pickett said botulism paralyzes muscles that control a person's breathing and can happen "very suddenly and quickly."

Pickett said the botulism toxin starts from spores derived from soil, and can be ingested or seep into a wound.

"It's that injury, that lack of oxygen to the brain, that can cause brain damage," Dr. Pickett said.

"We use the toxin in botulism in a drug called Botox which eliminates wrinkles in the face," Dr. Glen Solomon at Wright State University added.

Dr. Solomon is not treating Warmbier, but he believes Warmbier's outlook is bleak.

"Brian cells don't regenerate. You're born with all the cells you're going to get," Dr. Solomon said.

Warmbier's doctors said he is blinking, but he shows no sign of understanding language.

"For someone walking into the room and they see eyes moving, they think the person is getting better, but the reality is the brain is not showing much function," Dr. Solomon said.

It leaves his family to balance quality of life against the hope of their son living.

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