updated 1/8/2006 6:06:53 PM ET 2006-01-08T23:06:53

The critically injured lone survivor among the miners trapped deep inside a coal mine by an underground explosion remained in critical condition Sunday, but Randall McCloy Jr. is breathing independently, according to doctors monitoring the situation.

According to Larry Roberts, director of the Jon Michael Moore Trauma Center at West Virginia University Hospitals, McCloy, the sole survivor of last week's Sago Mine accident, is now breathing on his own, though he is still attached to a ventilator. Both his lungs are inflated.

McCloy “remains unchanged neurologically,” the statement said. Sedation was stopped Sunday, but Roberts said it was still too soon to know whether the sedatives had cleared out of McCloy's system.

McCloy remains in a medically induced coma at WVU Hospitals, after being transferred last week to a Pittsburgh hospital. WVU physicians will continue to observe him Sunday night and early Monday.

A doctor said Saturday that McCloy is showing dramatic improvements in both his organs and his brain function.

Doctors believe he has brain damage from severe oxygen deprivation caused by carbon monoxide gas.

Doctor hails ‘substantial improvement’
However, “we’ve seen substantial improvement,” said Dr. Richard Shannon, speaking for a team of doctors treating McCloy.

McCloy’s injured muscles are improving, along with his liver and heart function, and tests showed his brain swelling is reducing, Shannon said at a news conference.

Monday’s blast inside the Sago Mine near Tallmansville, W.Va., killed one miner immediately and 11 others who were found huddled together behind a plastic curtain they had erected to keep out carbon monoxide.

McCloy, 26, was brought to Pittsburgh’s Allegheny General Hospital on Thursday and was transferred back to WVU Hospitals in Morgantown, on Saturday night.

When doctors ease up on the medically induced coma in which McCloy is being kept to allow his brain to heal, he “does move spontaneously, he does flicker his eyelashes,” Shannon said. “All his brain stem functions appear to be intact.”

Along with that test, CAT scans Saturday morning at Allegheny General showed that small areas of bleeding and swelling in McCloy’s brain were being reduced, he said.

“Many of the organ systems that we were attempting to support appear to be responding to therapy, and Mr. McCloy had a very restful and, I think, very productive evening and early morning,” Shannon told reporters.

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