Sago Mine survivor Randal McCloy Jr. is awakening from his coma, doctors said Wednesday.
McCloy now opens his eyes if his name is called, said Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of the West Virginia University neurosurgery department.
“He has purposeful movements,” said Bailes. “He responds to his family in slight ways.
“We’re beginning to think we see that he wants to follow commands, which is a big step.”
McCloy, 26, was moved out of intensive care 48 hours before. Doctors now say he will likely be able to leave the hospital and go to a rehabilitation center within the next week to 10 days.
McCloy is still in a “light coma,” Bailes said. He still needs dialysis to do the work of his kidneys, but his liver, heart and lungs are working. He is being fed through a stomach tube, but doctors said that Wednesday morning he chewed and swallowed a piece of ice, an indication that he may be able to eat soon.
Bailes cautioned that “many people with severe carbon monoxide poisoning end up with severe cognitive, personality, memory, visual and motor responses. So we just don’t know.
“Plus, I don’t know the additive effect of the psychological trauma. I would think that this, from a psychological injury, would be about as severe as a human could tolerate.”
It is difficult to give McCloy a prognosis, doctors say, because science has never documented a patient like McCloy.
He was the only survivor among 13 men who spent 42 hours trapped in an Upshur County coal mine after a Jan. 2 explosion filled it with carbon monoxide.
To put that in context, a person who breathed carbon monoxide in a garage with the car running — a more common type of acute carbon monoxide poisoning, along with house fires — can become comatose and oxygen-deprived “within minutes,” said WVU trauma chief Dr. Lawrence Roberts. “So we normally speak of minutes. And here we’re talking about 42 hours, or some percentage of that.”
Besides the carbon monoxide poisoning, McCloy also suffered from shock, hypothermia, dehydration, a collapsed lung and significant muscle breakdown, doctors said.
“We are in many ways in uncharted territory, as far as predicting his recovery,” Bailes said.
McCloy’s family remains with him at the hospital. He and his wife Anna have two young children. Bailes said they report that McCloy is connecting emotionally with them — perhaps squeezing their hands, or sticking out his tongue — although doctors have not been able to reliably reproduce those signs.
“I think every few days we have seen more and more responsiveness and meaningful neurological signs from him,” Bailes said.
He said McCloy has four things going for him: He was rapidly resuscitated and never went back into shock; his CAT scan was normal when he came to the hospital; his MRI shows that the “white matter” of his brain is involved, and not the “gray matter”; and he opened his eyes relatively soon, within a week or so of the rescue.
“The fine points of his recovery — his brain’s functioning, whether it’s memory or personality or motor or speech, is likely to take the longest,” Bailes said.
“The long-term outlook is probably going to be measured in weeks and months, not days.”
It is still unknown why McCloy survived and 12 other men did not.
“Perhaps Randy — and I am completely speculating — but perhaps he had more oxygen available to him than those who succumbed,” Roberts said. “I can’t explain why or how, but that would be a logical explanation for why he did better.”
McCloy’s father, Randal McCloy Sr., has said he believes the other men on the crew — most of whom were over 50 — shared their oxygen with the youngest miner, but that has never been confirmed.
To contact staff writer Tara Tuckwiller, use e-mail or call 348-5189.
Fund for family
Funds have been established to benefit the families of the 12 miners who died in the Sago Mine disaster, and to support surviving miner Randal McCloy Jr.’s recovery:
West Virginia Council of Churches
Attention: Sago Mine Assistance Fund
2207 Washington St. E.
Charleston, WV 25311
Randal McCloy Jr. Fund
c/o Clear Mountain Bank
1889 Earl Core Road
Morgantown, WV 26505