When doctors gave an update on Otto Warmbier's condition Thursday, they said the 22-year-old suffered from Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome. Warmbier returned home to Ohio this week in a coma after being held in custody for 18 months in North Korea.
But what exactly is Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome syndrome?
Unresponsive Wakefulness Syndrome, or UWS, is a result of a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which causes the brain to halt the ability to create thoughts, experience sensation, and remember past events.
Patients in a vegetative state are awake, but show no signs of awareness. They may be able to open their eyes, have basic reflexes to actions, and wake up or fall asleep at various intervals. UWS patients are also able to breathe without mechanical assistance, while maintaining a regular heartbeat.
The amount of communication and cognitive mechanisms is limited with UWS. Patients might be able to swallow, grunt, smile, or moan without any external stimulus. They are also unable to obey verbal commands.
Doctors said Thursday that Warmbier appeared to have suffered "respiratory distress", cutting off oxygen to the brain.
“His neurological condition can best be described as a state of unresponsive wakefulness,” said Daniel Kanter, director of the neurocritical care program at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute.
He can open his eyes and blink. But he does not appear to understand language and does not answer commands. His arms and legs have atrophied.
Will he recover? Recovering from UWS is a long process that involves multiple surgeries to the brain in several areas.
Contributing: Anne Saker, The Cincinnati Enquirer