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Mine survivor getting oxygen treatment

Doctor: 'I think recovery is going to take a long time'

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Dr. Richard Shannon said Thursday that it could take days to determine McCloy's chance for recovery.

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West Virginia

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- The sole survivor of a mine explosion that killed 12 of his co-workers underwent the first in a series of oxygen treatments intended to flush a poison gas from his body, a doctor said.

Dr. Richard Shannon, chairman of Allegheny General Hospital's department of medicine, said he wouldn't comment on reports that Randy McCloy Jr., 26, was comatose, saying it's difficult to make such an assessment while a patient is sedated.

Doctors were unwilling to issue a prognosis, and Shannon was quick to say that McCloy's condition Thursday is not indicative of his likelihood of recovery. (Watch Shannon explain the treatment McCloy is receiving -- 1:35)

"The fact that he's not opening his eyes now doesn't mean he's worse. It simply may mean he's sedated," Shannon said.

McCloy, whom doctors say may have a brain injury due to a lack of oxygen, was moved 75 miles Thursday from Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, to Allegheny in Pittsburgh.

There, he was placed in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to remove from his system the poisonous carbon monoxide gas he inhaled while trapped in the Sago Mine for 41 hours, Shannon said. McCloy is in critical but stable condition.

The hyperbaric chamber, developed to help divers suffering from decompression sickness, or "the bends," is designed to increase oxygen levels in the blood more rapidly than breathing at normal atmospheric pressure.

Shannon emphasized that the 90-minute treatments, which will be administered every 12 hours for at least the next three days, are designed to remove the carbon monoxide from his tissue, not his blood.

His blood already has been cleansed, Shannon said, and doctors hope the oxygen treatment will "further hasten his healing."

However, he warned that the long-term effects of carbon monoxide poisoning could play out over several days, and McCloy will be under constant assessment during his treatment.

"I am not expecting Mr. McCloy to jump up at the end of this treatment," Shannon said. "I think recovery is going to take a long time."

McCloy suffered severe dehydration and a collapsed lung, along with injuries to several organs due to a lack of oxygen, while being trapped in the mine for almost two days. (Read how rescuers found Sago)

Shannon said Thursday that McCloy was suffering from "lots of organ dysfunction," ranging from mild to moderate.

Though Dr. John Prescott, dean of the West Virginia School of Medicine, said McCloy was in a coma -- a day after he said the miner responded to stimuli and squeezed his wife's hand -- Shannon said doctors in Pittsburgh would likely wean him off sedatives Friday before conducting the neurological exams necessary to make that determination.

Prescott said earlier Thursday that doctors have seen "slight improvements" in McCloy's heart, kidney, liver and lung functions, but his neurological status remained unchanged overnight.

Before being transferred, McCloy was on a ventilator but also had been breathing on his own, Prescott said.

Concerns about a brain injury arose as McCloy remained in a coma even after doctors ceased to sedate him. However, Prescott said, some of the sedatives might be lingering in McCloy's system because his organs were not yet fully functioning.

"We just don't know how his brain will recover," he said. "We'll know more 12 hours from now. We'll know more tomorrow."

Prescott said results were pending on several tests, including encephalograms, which measure electrical activity produced by the brain.

"This is not a usual patient," Prescott said. "That's a very important point about this. We don't know what happened, and the only person who does know ... can't talk with us in any way."

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