Video: Miracle survivor

By Matt Lauer
NBC News
updated 4/2/2006 8:42:00 PM ET 2006-04-03T00:42:00

This report aired Dateline Sunday, April 2

Randal McCloy is acutely aware that his life is called a miracle because he lived when 12 other men died.  The word may make him uncomfortable, but it’s also inescapable.  Last week, when he was released from the hospital, the governor of West Virginia presented him with a gift: The street Randy lives on has been renamed Miracle Road.

Matt Lauer, NBC News: People say you’re a miracle.  Do you feel like you’re a miracle?

Randal McCloy: Well, in a way that—I mean, surviving, yeah that—that’s a miracle.  But, I’d say, in a way, no.

Lauer: Why no?

McCloy: Well, cause—I feel like I’d be not remembering my fellow miners.

But as we learned when we visited with Randy and his wife Anna, the miracle of his survival is really a combination of things.  A medical mystery, yes... but also a story of determination, faith, and, maybe most of all, love.

Lauer: As you’ve watched him go through this process and learn to talk again and use his hands again and dress himself again and walk again… I would imagine you’ve learned a little bit about your husband.  What have you learned?

Anna McCloy: This man right here never gives up.  And I’m glad that he’s able to push himself.  Cause some people don’t have that.  And I’m proud of him. 

Anna has not left Randy’s side since he was rescued from the mine.  She moved into the rehabilitation hospital with him and actually lived there while he underwent intensive therapy.  Randy’s not the only one who’s determined.

Lauer: When he gets a little down, if he does get a little down, which one of you has to kick him in the butt a little bit? Or is that Anna’s job?

Therapist: That’s usually Anna’s job.

McCloy: That’s probably her job.

Lauer: Has she had to do that from time to time?

McCloy: Yeah, from time to time. You know, not to much but sometimes.

One way or another, Randy’s been fighting for his life since January 2, when an explosion at the Sago mine trapped him and 12 co-workers two miles underground in total darkness.

McCloy: The main thing is being in the dark like that where you’re honestly looking for your way out, and one that isn’t smoky and filled with gasses and things. So it’s a really confusing time. I remember sometimes I would try to go through  walls and stuff, try to walk through them or something to get to the other side, but just really confusing. You don’t really know where you’re going.

The air in the mine was poisonous.  For more than a day, rescuers could not go in because tests showed levels of carbon monoxide were six times what people can safely breathe.  The miners had emergency oxygen but it only lasted an hour.

McCloy: Well, we all knew there was nothing you could do. We all knew that. We knew we was going to end up taking the bullet on that one.

With their bodies and brains deprived of oxygen, the miners started fading.  The note one man left to his family indicates he survived for about 10 hours breathing the poisonous air of the mine.  Randy kept breathing for 30 more hours, but eventually, he wrote his own note to Anna, and their children, Randal junior and Isabel.

Anna McCloy: He just started out by saying, “Anna I love you so much.”  And told Randal to “Trust in the Lord,” and for “Isabelle to stay sweet.”  And that he didn’t want us to grieve long.  He wanted us to be happy in life.  And he signed it, “Daddy.”

Lauer: That’s a hard thing to have to say goodbye to someone on a piece of paper.

McCloy: Yeah.  Yes, it is. All kinds of things you want to  say and can’t.

When the rescuers finally arrived, Randy was the only miner left to save.

Lauer: Do you remember being rescued?

McCloy: No, cause I had so much carbon monoxide in my lungs, I couldn’t even breath, much less, you know, speak properly. 

Neurosurgeon Julian Bailes has worked with Randy since the rescue.

Julian Bailes, neurosurgeon: He was in terrible shape when he got here:  in shock, collapsed left lung, in kidney failure, heart failure, liver failure.  Really nothing working right and in a deep coma.

Randy had severe brain damage.  But why was he alive at all?  Bailes says some people are less affected by carbon monoxide than others, but that alone doesn’t explain Randy’s survival.

Bailes: In addition to that, he certainly with that degree and length of exposure had to have been in better air for the vast majority of the time that he was underground.

But how could that be?  Bailes notes that Randy’s job sometimes had him working hundreds of feet from the main crew—and speculates Randy was just lucky enough to find a pocket of good air.  But Bailes’  theory has a flaw:  Randy was reportedly found with the other miners.

Bailes:  I just think that for whatever reason, and some have said it’s a miracle, and maybe it’s part miracle, but Randy survived and has come through it better than we expected at first.

There’s that word “miracle” again.

Lauer: So then, do you think faith played a big role in this?

McCloy:  That’s possible.

Anna McCloy: Yeah.  I think, yeah.  A very big part of it.

It’s easy to see, part of their faith, is in each other. 

Lauer: So what was the first time when you realized ok, he knows that it’s me?

Anna McCloy: I was talking to him and I told him, “Randy I know that you can’t talk right now, but if you know who I am, just give me one kiss. And he kissed me.”

Lauer: Did he lean up and do that or did he kiss your hand?

Anna McCloy: No, he leaned up—he leaned his head toward me.

Lauer: How hard did you cry? I’m almost crying.

Anna McCloy: I lost it you know I didn’t, I never expected that.

Long before Randy could speak, he could signal his love for Anna.

Lauer:  Anna tells a story that at one point in this process you—you reached over and you grabbed her hand and you gestured toward her wedding ring and you shook your head and then you held your own hand up and you didn’t have your wedding ring on.  And—

McCloy: I made a comparison there, I believe that’s what you’re getting at.

Lauer: And basically, you wanted your ring back on?

McCloy: Right.            

The road back has been hard and will be for a long time.  Randy’s memory is spotty.  His vision is impaired.  His right side is still feeble.  He needs help to walk.  He’ll need therapy for months—at least. 

McCloy: It’s rough to watch, to see that kind of thing, you know, knowing that you’re not on the top of your game, per se.  It’s hard to watch, you know?  It’s almost like your life passing by a little bit cause someone else is living it, doing what you were supposed to be doing.

The doctors say Randy has a good chance of getting back the life he once had.  But he and Anna agree there will be one big difference.

Lauer: Do you picture yourself ever going into a coal mine again?

McCloy: No.  That’s over with.

Tonight, for the first time in many a Sunday, Randy McCloy is home with his wife and kids... at home, on Miracle Road.

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