Randal McCloy Jr, the only survivor among 13 men trapped by an explosion on Jan. 2 in the Sago Mine in West Virginia, began emerging from a coma on Wednesday, doctors said.
McCloy, who was rescued after being trapped underground for more than 40 hours, has begun moving his arms and legs, opening his eyes spontaneously, breathing on his own, chewing and swallowing, doctors at West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown said in a news conference later posted on the hospital Web site.
"With great hope, we announce that Randy McCloy is awakening from his coma," said Julian Bailes, chairman of neurosurgery at the hospital.
But doctors cautioned that it could be weeks or months before they will know the extent of neurological damage suffered by McCloy, a slight 26-year-old nicknamed Skinny, the youngest of the miners trapped after the explosion.
"We must emphasize that he has a very long way to go," Bailes said.
McCloy, of Simpson, West Virginia, may be the longest-known survivor of carbon monoxide poisoning, Bailes said.
"So we're in many ways in uncharted territory in terms of predicting his recovery, but we remain cautiously optimistic," Bailes added.
Severe carbon monoxide poisoning, Bailes said, often results in serious impairments in cognitive functioning, memory, vision and motor responses.
The team treating McCloy said his heart and liver function had returned to normal, but he remained on dialysis. With continued progress, McCloy could be moved to a rehabilitation center within the next two weeks, McCloy's primary physician, Larry Roberts, said in the news conference video.
Family members, including McCloy's wife, Anna, were at his bedside on Wednesday, doctors said, and he responded to their voices.
In a telephone interview, Aly Goodwin Gregg, a spokeswoman for members of McCloy's family, said the family was heartened by his progress.
"They remain steadfast in focusing on his recovery and hopeful about his recovery," she said.
Word of McCloy's progress came as state and federal authorities investigating the Sago accident entered a second day of private interviews with miners, coal company officials and inspectors. Poisonous gases have kept investigators from entering the mine.
After the explosion, the cause of which remains unknown, inaccurate first reports of the survival of 12 miners brought euphoria that later turned to grief inside a church near the mine.
Also on Wednesday, the United Mine Workers of America said in a news release that the union would represent Sago Mine employees in the investigation.