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Miner returns to West Virginia

Doctor: Improvement warrants moving survivor closer to home

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Dr. Richard Shannon said Saturday that the surviving miner is improving, but is "not yet out of the woods."

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Sago Mine
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- The sole survivor of a West Virginia mine explosion was dramatically improving Saturday as he struggled to fend off the carbon monoxide poisoning that killed his co-workers, a doctor said.

Meanwhile, doctors in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said McCloy, 26, was transferred Saturday night to the West Virginia hospital where he was originally treated so he can be closer to his family.

"I am thrilled to report that we have had terrific success overnight," said Dr. Richard Shannon, speaking for a team of doctors treating McCloy at Allegheny General Hospital. "Mr. McCloy's oxygen requirement and ventilation requirement were reduced dramatically."

Shannon said later that McCloy's muscles, brain, lung, liver and heart were all improving, but they were not yet normal.

McCloy still will require a ventilator to aid his breathing and will need dialysis every one to three days to continue flushing his system. Shannon emphasized that McCloy is "not yet out of the woods."

McCloy was transferred to Allegheny from Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia, to receive a specialized oxygen treatment. Shannon said earlier Saturday that if the miner continued to show signs of clinical stability it's important "to try and get Mr. McCloy home."

McCloy's medical team decided Saturday afternoon it was OK to transport him by helicopter back to Ruby Memorial. He arrived Saturday night.

The miner remains in a medically induced coma and is in critical but stable condition. The top concern among doctors is still the level of brain damage he may have suffered while trapped in the mine for almost two days.

McCloy has received three treatments in a hyperbaric chamber designed to pump pressurized oxygen into his system to combat the effects of the oxygen deprivation and carbon monoxide poisoning he suffered.

Doctors postponed further treatments to focus on McCloy's collapsed lung. Shannon said that the lung incurred heavy damage during McCloy's 41 hours in the mine because he lost his reflexes and was unable to cough, sneeze or clear his airway.

Because he was lying on his left side, that lung was more damaged by the dust and gas that accumulated, Shannon said. But after dialysis and steroid treatments, doctors were able to expand his lung and drastically improve his breathing.

"For the moment," Shannon said, "issues with his lungs appear to have resolved."

Before Saturday, doctors had been reluctant to revive him from the coma because his brain needed rest, but they have begun lightening the sedation that kept him comatose, Shannon said.

Doctors were encouraged to see McCloy respond to various stimuli -- he even tried to swallow -- but while these are good signs, they do not indicate that McCloy will fully recover.

Though doctors are unwilling at this time to issue a prognosis, Shannon said that the miner has spent a "very productive" three days at Allegheny and that his medical conditions are "getting better."

"They're not normal. They're all getting better, and they're getting better significantly. All of those things are important in facilitating neurological recovery," he said. "There are no really good prognosticators here other than youth."

As for his brain function, Shannon said it would be impossible to give a report before "we can wean him from the ventilator."

McCloy's wife, Anna, 25, spent her first night away from the hospital Friday, Shannon said. She stayed in a nearby hotel.

"We sent Anna home last night," he said. "She was simply physically exhausted."

On Friday she brought her husband pictures of their two children, a boom box and a compact disc by his favorite band, Metallica. Shannon said he heard music in the miner's room, "but don't ask me what it was."

The funerals for McCloy's co-workers, who ranged in age from 28 to 61, are scheduled for the beginning of the week. Six are on Sunday, three Monday and two Tuesday. One service will be private, and the date has not been announced.

John Law, a spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, said Saturday that carbon monoxide intoxication will be listed as the cause of death on the death certificates of the other miners trapped in the Sago Mine with survivor Randy McCloy Jr.

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