Survivor of mine disaster hasn't been told he was the only one to live
Thursday, March 2, 2006
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Randal McCloy Jr. hasn't asked about the fate of the 12 men who entered the Sago Mine with him two months ago. And so far, his wife hasn't told him.
The 26-year-old coal miner knows it was an explosion that left him with brain damage and other injuries. But wife Anna has shielded him from news coverage and has not told him that he was the only one to make it out alive, that his friends perished, most of them slowly succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning as they lay in the dark awaiting 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," she said.
"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 at the HealthSouth Mountain View Regional Rehabilitation Hospital.
McCloy 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.
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.
'As plain as day'
"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 Randal'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.
Unable to offer a medical reason for McCloy's survival, physicians have repeatedly called the youngest of the 13 miners a miracle.
A few days ago, overhearing the word yet again, McCloy smiled at his wife and told her, "I'm a miracle."
"In a way, I can't wait till it comes to the point I can tell him why," she said.
Until then, it is easy to avoid discussing the explosion.
"I don't want to know how he felt in there," she said. "It upsets me every time I even think about it. I don't want to know what he went through. I don't want to hear what he was feeling. I mean, I do, but I don't."
When he worked in the mines, McCloy kept most of his worries to himself. But he did tell his wife that 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.
Said his wife: "He told me he guarantees me he'll never work in another mine again."