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Sole survivor is not told fate of fellow Sago workers

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 Anna McCloy has shielded her husband 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 in an interview 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, because Randal McCloy is still learning to talk and walk again, spending four hours a day in rigorous therapy at 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 roughly 2 miles inside. It took more than 40 hours for rescue teams to reach them.

McCloy was carried out Jan. 4 with damage to his kidneys, lungs, liver, and heart 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.

''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.

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 is still unknown, but Biundo said McCloy has made ''astounding progress."

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."

Before the disaster, McCloy told his wife that the Sago Mine 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.

She told him then 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 their two children.

Her husband will not be going back to the mines, Anna McCloy said. ''He told me he guarantees me he'll never work in another mine again."

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