Otto Warmbier’s post-mortem report provides more details on his condition at time of death

Late student’s parents’ accounts conflict with medical analysis

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Otto Warmbier was imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months after being accused of attempting to steal a political banner from a hotel in Pyongyang.  

Courtesy Reuters | Cavalier Daily

A post-mortem analysis of late University student Otto Warmbier, who died in June after being imprisoned in North Korea for 17 months, contradicts some claims made by his parents in recent televised interviews about his physical state when he was returned to the U.S. in June. 

According to the medical report, Warmbier died primarily from “complications of chronic anoxic/ischemic encephalopathy,” meaning his brain was deprived of oxygen. The report also said he died from an “unknown insult more than a year prior to death.”

During their appearances on Fox News and CNN earlier this week, Fred and Cindy Warmbier described their son’s condition as “totally deformed” when he came home from North Korea. 

“It looked like someone had taken a pair of pliers and rearranged his bottom teeth,” Fred Warmbier said on Fox. 

They also noted that their son appeared to be blind and deaf, and that he had a large scar on his right foot.

The report confirmed several of Cindy and Fred Warmbier’s observations, including “contusions” on his right arm and hand, and a “pigmented scar” on the top of his right foot. However, the report stated that his teeth appeared “natural and in good repair.” 

"There was no evidence of trauma to the teeth,” said Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, the coroner for Hamilton County, Ohio, where the examination took place. "We were surprised at that statement."

The post-mortem report was conducted in lieu of an autopsy, per the Warmbier family's request. 

In addition to scars around his mouth, arms and legs, the report notes that Warmbier appeared to have a healed tracheostomy scar, a procedure intended to create a breathing passage when the natural passage is obstructed. Since the scar was healed, Warmbier potentially regained the ability to breathe on his own later on. 

Despite his injuries, Warmbier appeared “well-nourished,” according to the report. 

“We believe that for somebody who’s been bedridden for more than a year, that his body was in excellent condition,” Sammarco said. 

The Warmbiers claimed the North Korean government “tortured him [and] they intentionally injured him.” 

Warmbier suffered brain damage due to lack of oxygen, but the report offers little explanation for the circumstances that could have caused such an event. 

“We don't know what the root cause of that is,” Sammarco said. “Could that have been torture at the time? We don’t know.” 

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