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Buried Alive, Worker Fights For Life

The condition of a construction worker rescued after being buried for 15 hours improved somewhat but his outlook remains grim, doctors said.

Darby Wayne Patrick developed abdominal pain, and he remained in critical condition Thursday at Erlanger Medical Center. But doctors said Wednesday that there were some good signs: His kidneys were functioning and the level of acid in his blood decreased.

Patrick, 26, was part of a crew laying pipe along a Chattanooga highway Monday afternoon when the ditch collapsed, trapping him under 5 feet of soil.

By the time he was finally pulled to safety at before dawn Tuesday, Patrick had developed what physicians call "crush injuries" from the weight of the dirt on top of him. He suffered damage to his pelvis and legs, and his lungs filled with fluid.

"It's a miracle that Mr. Patrick is still alive," said Dr. David Wharton on Wednesday, who spent more than eight hours inside the ditch with Patrick. "Trench rescues aren't usually rescues. They're body recoveries."

Only 25 percent of people who suffer such injuries survive, doctors say.

"I want to thank the people who are praying for him," said his wife, Julie, as tears filled her eyes during an afternoon news conference at the hospital on Wednesday. "He needs that support and that help."

CBS affiliate WDEF-TV in Chattanooga reported that Patrick was alert and joking with doctors Tuesday just after his rescue.

But the euphoria surrounding his rescue dissipated when the extent of his injuries was established.

Patrick was conscious and upbeat during the grueling rescue. He talked and joked with emergency workers as they dug carefully around him to avoid another cave-in. They cheered when he was lifted by crane Tuesday morning.

His employer, Evan Haren of Haren Construction Co., said Patrick likely was standing outside a designated safety area when he was hurt.