MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In the two months since the blast at Sago Mine, lone survivor Randal McCloy Jr. has emerged from a coma and is learning to walk and talk again. Though he knows he is called a miracle, he hasn't been told why.
He knows it was an explosion that left him with brain damage and other injuries. But he has never asked about the fate of his 12 fellow miners, and wife Anna has not told him that they perished, most slowly succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning as they awaited rescue.
"We're just going to wait until he basically comes around completely before we come out and tell him, you know, that he's the only one," Anna McCloy told The Associated Press Tuesday.
"He may know. And in a way, I have this feeling that he does," she said. "I'm just giving him the chance and giving him the time. When he's ready to talk, he'll tell me."
Their few conversations about the accident have been brief and vague, since McCloy is still learning to talk and walk again, spending four hours a day in rigorous therapy.
McCloy, 26, and his crew had entered the mine Jan. 2 to resume production after a holiday shutdown when an explosion of still-undetermined origin trapped the 13 men more than two miles inside. It took more than 40 hours for rescue teams to reach them.
McCloy was carried out with kidney, lung, liver and heart damage on Jan. 4 and remained in a coma for weeks. Today, he eats and breathes on his own. The left side of his body is strong, and the right is slowly catching up, said Dr. Russ Biundo, medical director at HealthSouth Mountain View Regional Hospital, where McCloy is recovering.
Unable to offer a medical reason for his survival, physicians have repeatedly called him a miracle. Overhearing the word yet again a few days ago, he smiled at his wife.
"I'm a miracle," he told her.
"In a way, I can't wait till it comes to the point I can tell him why," she said.
McCloy can scan a room and focus his eyes, and he is often able to identify objects held in front of him, distinguishing, say, a pen from a pitcher. He can sometimes put together full sentences.
"He's able to express his needs. He's able to tell you where he has pain. His words are astonishingly well-articulated without any slurring," Biundo said. "He'll say things like, 'I feel fine, thank you.' Just like that. As plain as day."
Anna McCloy said she talks with her husband all day long, as if he were at home in their living room.
But Biundo said McCloy's ability to express himself is consistent only when the questions are simple and his attention focused. "Complex questions, complex issues, it's hard for him to grasp," he said.
It may be three to six months before McCloy is capable of carrying on a normal conversation, the doctor said. The extent of the brain damage he suffered is still unknown. But Biundo said McCloy has made "astounding progress."
"I never would have expected him to get so far along in such a short period of time," Biundo said.
When he worked in the mines, McCloy kept most of his worries to himself. But he did tell his wife that he believed Sago wasn't safe. "He told me, he said, `Something is going to happen, and I'm going to have to get out of there,'" his wife said.
Before the disaster, Anna McCloy advised her husband to find a new job. "We had all these plans on that," she said, "but we just didn't do it quick enough."
Now the McCloy family is making plans of a different sort, including a trip to Disney World with 4-year-old Randal and 15-month-old Isabel.
"We're going to have one big family vacation, something we never could do before because it was always work in the way or something in the way," Anna McCloy said.
But her husband will not be going back to the mines.
"He told me he guarantees me he'll never work in another mine again," she said.