Sago Mine Survivor Learning To Speak

This 2003 photo provided by the family of Randal McCloy, shows McCloy, the sole survivor of the mine explosion in Tallmansville, W. Va. with his son Randal Jr.
AP
The survivor of the Sago Mine disaster is slowly learning to speak again, answering questions and learning to articulate words at a rehabilitation hospital, a family spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Randal L. McCloy Jr., 26, sometimes responds with a single word, but also uses phrases to answer relatives and therapists, said Aly Goodwin Gregg, a spokeswoman for McCloy's family. Some of his communication is clear, but much is still difficult to understand.

"His family is ecstatic with what's coming now," Gregg said. "It's wonderful to say, 'Do you want more chicken fingers?' and for him to be able to say no."

Doctors are still gauging the extent of brain damage McCloy suffered from severe oxygen deprivation, she said.

McCloy's wife, Anna, elicits the best responses from her husband, Gregg said. McCloy seldom initiates the talking.

McCloy was part of a 13 miners who became trapped deep in the mine Jan. 2 after an explosion. The men were exposed to deadly carbon monoxide for more than 41 hours before searchers found them.

By then, all but McCloy had died. He was carried out of the mine with kidney, lung, liver and heart damage on Jan. 4 and remained in a coma for weeks before being transferred to HealthSouth Mountainview Regional Rehabilitation Hospital in Morgantown.

The cause of the mine blast remains under investigation.

On Monday, miners' families shared with a House panel notes written after last month's mine explosion. Families called on lawmakers to improve safety.

West Virginia recently passed a law mandating safety changes in underground mines. Other state legislatures and Congress also are considering such legislation, and the federal agency that oversees the industry is pursuing an emergency rule that would put extra oxygen packs underground and improve escape routes.

Gregg said McCloy's alertness and physical strength are also improving through daily therapy. He eats with some assistance but has a feeding tube to supplement his nutritional needs. That tube may be removed within the next few weeks.

McCloy is making purposeful movement with his left arm and left side, but his right side is slower to regain strength, Gregg said.

"You can see him frustrated when he can't do it," she said. "The doctors are really pleased with his focus and concentration."

Last week, Anna McCloy said "It's like he's in a fog and this fog has to disappear," in a USA Today article. "As it disappears little by little, more pieces of Randy come through."