FILE - In this Feb. 29, 2016 file photo, American student Otto Warmbier speaks to reporters in Pyongyang, North Korea. Secretary of State Tillerson said Tuesday, June 13, 2017, that North Korea released the jailed U.S. university student (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon, File)
Photo: Washington Bureau
Photo: Washington Bureau

Local doctor says in cases like Warmbier, brain tissue cannot restore itself

A Dayton physician spoke about the type of severe brain injury sustained by college student Otto Warmbier while detained in North Korean.

Doctors at University of Cincinnati Medical Center don’t know what caused Warmbier’s brain injury, but it’s left the 22-year-old man in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness.” A scan of Warmbier’s brain revealed a significant loss of tissue in all parts of the brain.

RELATED: Doctors say Otto Warmbier has ‘extensive loss of brain tissue’ on return from N. Korea

Dr. Doug Pugar, of Dayton Center for Neurological Disorders, said even losing just a quarter-sized section of brain matter can lead to function loss.

Warmbier suffered a brain injury and the tissue won't restore itself

Something caused Warmbier’s heart and lungs to stop working for a period of time, cutting off oxygen to his brain and killing tissue.

“Generally, no the brain tissue we have is not able to restore itself once it’s severely injured,” Pugar said. 

Pugar did not speak specifically about Otto Warmbier, but more generally about what “unresponsive wakefulness” means. 

Otto Warmbier’s release from North Korea: What we know now

Inside the Cincinnati hospital, Warmbier is breathing on his own and has his eyes open. But the doctors say he is not aware of his surroundings.

“Generally, in a comatose state, their eyes are closed. But after a period, their natural progression of that state is to go into what used to be known as a persistent vegetative state,” Pugar said. “... The prognosis is, generally speaking, rather poor."

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