Sago Mine survivor Randal McCloy Jr., looking thin and stiff but walking on his own, offered his gratitude Thursday as he was released from a hospital after almost three months.
"I'd just like to thank everybody for their thoughts and prayers," McCloy said softly, wearing a baseball cap and a racing-team jacket at a morning news conference. He paused, then added with a weak smile, "I believe that's it."
Doctors say they can't explain why McCloy, who was trapped underground for more than 40 hours after the Jan. 2 mine explosion, survived the carbon monoxide exposure while all 12 other miners with him died. Medical crews at the mine have said McCloy, too, was close to death when he was rescued.
"It's basically almost like he was resurrected," Dr. Russell Biundo, medical director at HealthSouth Mountainview Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, said Thursday.
Gov. Joe Manchin was also talking about miracles as he handed McCloy a green street sign reading: "Miracle Road," for the renamed rural road leading to the family's home in Simpson.
"Randy is unbelievable how he has come through this ordeal," Manchin said. "Today, I'm happy to say that the time has finally come for Randy to return home."
McCloy left the hospital with his wife, Anna, after the brief statements and headed home, where they were greeted by more than a dozen relatives cheering and blowing car horns.
As he sat on the front porch, Randal McCloy said he would "probably just hang around, hold kids and stuff" on his first day home.
In an interview with The Associated Press about his ordeal, McCloy said Wednesday he had "no explanation of how I escaped it and survived."
Some people have speculated it was because of the 26-year-old's youth, or because he was deeper in the mine, farther from the bad air. But McCloy said he wasn't that far from his colleagues.
He also doesn't believe a crushed lung limited the carbon monoxide he inhaled. If he'd been in pain, he figures, he'd have inhaled even more.
What McCloy does know is that he's strong and healthy now because of 24-hour support from his wife and his brother-in-law, Rick McGee, who rarely left his side over the past three months.
"What I believe is that the people who are there for you tend to create a world where you can get better," McCloy said. "It's love, really."
McCloy has been undergoing rehabilitation for his physical injuries, but he also suffered severe brain damage and remembers only small snatches of the accident, reports CBS News correspondent Thalia Assuras.
McCloy's memories of the 41 hours underground are "not much really," just fragmented images he'd rather forget. When he thinks of his fallen friends, he pictures them elsewhere.
"I try to leave out all the gory details and stuff like that because I don't like to look at them in that light and that way," he said. "I just like to picture them saved and in heaven, stuff like that."
McCloy was pulled from the coal mine Jan. 4 with kidney, lung, liver and heart damage. He was in a coma for weeks with severe brain injuries and lost 35 pounds, leaving him at about 135.
His throat still bears a deep purple mark from a long-since removed feeding tube, but his voice is clear and soft.
He smiles often and seems frustrated only by his limitations, mainly a right arm that remains weak.
"My hands, my grip, is not as good as I want it to be, but I'm going to try to exercise and stuff like that," he said.
His wife is providing an incentive. While he was in therapy, she ordered a present for his birthday April 14: a red 2006 Ford Mustang to replace the family's Taurus.
"I wanted to give him something to work for," she said, "to make him really want to push himself."
In the pool at HealthSouth Mountainview Regional Rehabilitation Hospital, he has been. He tossed a beach ball with a therapist to work on agility and reflexes. At home, he will continue to use weights to help his therapy, and he will return to HealthSouth three days a week, four hours a day, for a few more months.
Someday, he'll start to think about work again. He's considering a vocational school, maybe electronics. He won't be going back underground.
"No, I done learned my lesson," he said. "The hard way."
In a few months, the McCloys are planning a family trip to Disney World, but for now they're looking forward to peace.
"It'll be a vacation just getting home," said Anna McCloy, who said she would fire up the oven for the first time in three months to make a big pan of lasagna.
Randal will start working through the thousands of cards and letters he has received, enough to fill a spare bedroom at a relative's house. He also hopes to meet with the families of all the fallen miners in the coming weeks and months.
"It's a delicate situation and it should be handled delicately. It's not something you definitely want to dive right in," he said. "I am going to choose to be careful about what I say and how I word things for the families' sake. I just feel I should show them great respect."
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