Simpson, W.Va. It wasn't a fancy homecoming, just some red balloons, handmade signs, a lot of hugs and his wife's homemade lasagna. But it was everything the only survivor of the Sago Mine disaster wanted after a three-month recovery that continues to amaze doctors.
He is thin and still a bit unsteady on his feet, but Randal McCloy Jr. was strong enough Thursday to leave the Morgantown rehabilitation hospital where he has spent two months in intensive therapy, recovering from a severe brain injury and regaining his physical strength.
The scene would have been hard to imagine Jan. 4, when a critically injured McCloy was carried out of the mine 41 hours after an explosion that left 12 fellow miners dead.
"I'd just like to thank everybody for their thoughts and prayers," he said softly at a news conference with his wife, Anna.
He paused, then added, "I believe that's it."
An hour later, when he arrived at his gray and blue trailer in Simpson, relatives shouted out greetings and young children blew noisemakers.
Missy McGee, Anna McCloy's sister, said she knew he would enjoy the fuss.
"He used to be the quiet type, but since this has happened, he's been very, very verbal," said McGee, whose husband has been with the McCloys nonstop since the 26-year-old miner was rescued.
"If he saw a crowd before, he would walk around it. But it's not the same now. It's good to see him this way," she said. "He has a new lease on life."
McCloy is considered a medical miracle because he survived being exposed to carbon monoxide for so long. Doctors cannot fully explain why he lived and 12 others died. They also had expected him to spend about six months in therapy, but released him in half that time.
Anna McCloy said she was happy her husband was going home, but they remember the families of the miners who died.
"There are 12 families who are in our thoughts and prayers today and every day," she said.