Sago Mine survivor returns home

Friday, March 31, 2006

Randal McCloy Jr. was trapped underground for more than 40 hours after the West Virginia mine explosion Jan. 2.

SIMPSON, W.Va. -- It wasn't a fancy homecoming, just some red balloons, handmade signs, a lot of hugs and his wife's homemade lasagna. But it was everything the only survivor of the Sago Mine disaster wanted after a three-month recovery that continues to amaze doctors.

He is thin and still a bit unsteady on his feet, but Randal McCloy Jr. was strong enough Thursday to leave the Morgantown rehabilitation hospital where he has spent two months in intensive therapy, recovering from a severe brain injury and regaining his physical strength.

The scene would have been hard to imagine Jan. 4, when a critically injured McCloy was carried out of the mine 41 hours after an explosion that left 12 fellow miners dead.

"I'd just like to thank everybody for their thoughts and prayers," he said softly at a news conference with his wife, Anna.

He paused, then added, "I believe that's it."

An hour later, when he arrived at his white trailer in Simpson, relatives shouted out greetings and small children blew noisemakers.

Missy McGee, Anna McCloy's sister, said she knew he would enjoy the fuss.

"He used to be the quiet type, but since this has happened, he's been very, very verbal," said McGee, whose husband has been with the McCloys nonstop since the 26-year-old miner was rescued.

McCloy has also asked Anna to remarry him, she said, perhaps in a bigger ceremony than the one they had June 30, 2001.

"He has a new lease on life," McGee said.

McCloy is considered a medical miracle because he survived being exposed to carbon monoxide for so long. Doctors cannot fully explain why he lived and 12 others died. They also had expected him to spend about six months in therapy, but released him in half that time.

"It's still amazing, still astonishing," said Dr. Russell Biundo, medical director at HealthSouth Mountainview Regional Rehabilitation Hospital. "It's basically almost like he was resurrected."

McCloy thanks God for his survival. "Because of him, I am here," he said, sitting on a living-room sofa.

Anna McCloy said her family was happy to be going home, but remembers the families of the miners who died. "There are 12 families who are in our thoughts and prayers today and every day," she said.

In recognition of McCloy's recovery, Gov. Joe Manchin announced the rural road where the McCloys live will be renamed "Miracle Road." He gave green-and-white signs to McCloy and his three key physicians.

"We didn't get the 13 miracles we hoped for," Manchin said. "We did get one."

Associated Press Writer Vicki Smith contributed to this report from Morgantown.

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