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American Morning

Ariel Sharon on Operating Table Again; Last Words From One Victim of Sago Mine Tragedy

Aired January 06, 2006 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Soledad O'Brien. The prime minister of Israel is on the operating table right now. Ariel Sharon is undergoing surgery after doctors found more bleeding on his brain. We're going to take you live to Jerusalem for more on this developing story.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Miles O'Brien. Last words from one victim of the Sago mine tragedy, an emotional farewell note left from his family. A live report from West Virginia just ahead.

And meanwhile, the sole survivor fighting for his life, doctors changing tactics to save Randy McCloy. We're live at the hospital.

S. O'BRIEN: Also anger on the streets of New Orleans. Take a look at these pictures. The city wants to start demolishing homes, but those angry residents say not so fast, their homes are fine. We're going to take you there live, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning. We're glad you're with us on this Friday morning.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, lots of developments to get to right away. Let's, in fact, begin in Israel, where we are waiting for official word right now on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's condition. He was rushed back into surgery this morning. Doctors are trying to stop the bleeding and relieve pressure on his brain. This is the third operation he's had since a massive stroke on Wednesday. And his chances for survival, frankly, are looking more and more grim.

Guy Raz is live outside the hospital in Jerusalem for us this morning.

Guy, good morning to you.

How does Sharon's uncertain fate complicate what is happening politically in Israel and the surrounding territory?

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, it's creating a lot of uncertainty. This is an enormous upheaval, unprecedented, really, in Israeli history, because never before in Israel's history has a sitting prime minister become incapacitated while in power.

Now, essentially, there is really no clear leader to come after Ariel Sharon. There are likely candidates perhaps, Ehud Olmert, the man who is currently serving as the acting prime minister, a close political ally of Ariel Sharon, and the man right now is the caretaker leader of Mr. Sharon's centrist political party, Kadima.

Also perhaps, Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister, a right-winger, a hardliner, who now heads the Likud party. He certainly will be vying for that position. And finally perhaps, Shimon Peres, a longtime peace campaigner, a man of the left, and strangely enough, a close friend of Ariel Sharon.

There is also talk that Israelis may want to see a historical figure, a member of the founding generation, like Shimon Peres perhaps, return to the political fray -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Guy, does all of this mean, in fact, that the efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are, for the most part, brought to a halt?

RAZ: Well, they are certainly impacted in the short term, and ultimately, obviously, the United States has a very deep interest in preserving the very delicate process that it sponsored for so many years. The United States has invested a lot of political capital in this conflict, believing that the resolution of the Palestinian- Israeli conflict really is key to brining about greater democratization in the Arab world. The Bush administration clearly would want the next Israeli government, if in fact Ariel Sharon does not resume his duties as prime minister, the Bush administration will want the next government to pursue the policies that we believe Ariel Sharon himself would have pursued, and that is the establishment, or bringing both sides closer to a two-state solution -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Guy Raz for us this morning. He's outside the hospital where Ariel Sharon is now undergoing surgery once again. Guy, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Now a dying man's final words as he faced death in the Sago mine. A note written by 51-year-old Martin Toler reveals what it was like for the 12 coal miners trapped in the darkness deep underground. He tries to comfort his family about his own death, saying, "It wasn't bad, just went to sleep."

Kimberly Osias live at the Sago mine in Upshur County, West Virginia.

Good morning, Kimberly.

KIMBERLY OSIAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Miles.

Well, I'll tell you, when we first saw a picture of that letter last night, it was a very visceral reaction we all had. I mean, you know, it's been such a roller coaster for these families. You just can't help it, but your heart really goes out to them.


OSIAS (voice-over): "Tell all, I see them on the other side. J.R." Final words from 51-year-old Martin Toler Jr., one of the 12 miners who died in the Sago coal mine in West Virginia. Toler apparently wanted his family to know he wasn't suffering. He wrote, "It wasn't bad, just went to sleep." And at the bottom, he wrote, "I love you."

Martin Toler was a section foreman, and spent more than three decades working in the mines. We're told he was a proud father, seen here at his daughter's wedding, and a wonderful grandfather. Toler's family received the letter after identifying his body. His nephew, Randy Toler, says the note was written on the back of an insurance form Martin had in his pocket.

Thursday night, Randy told CNN's Anderson Cooper, he hopes his uncle's last words speak loudest.

RANDY TOLER, NEPHEW OF DECEASED MINER: Well, it was the most precious thing that I believe I've ever seen. I think he wanted to put our minds to ease, and that we knew he didn't suffer, and I just think that God gave him peace at the end.


OSIAS: And even for some of the family members that didn't get those notes, for them today, for some of them, a sense of peace as well. We've been talking to the family of Jerry Groves. Actually his sister, Becky Rogers, tells me she at least now feels like he had time to pray -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Kimberly Osias.

More on the final words of those lost miners tonight, a special "ANDERSON COOPER 360" program. "Hope and Heartbreak: Tragedy at the Sago Mine" is the name of the program, 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Doctors are trying something for surviving miner Randy McCloy Jr. They have specialized oxygen treatments to, in a way, clean his brain. He was moved from the university hospital in Morgantown, West Virginia to Allegheny Hospital in Pittsburgh.

CNN's Jonathan Freed is at that hospital.

Jonathan, how is he doing this morning?

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles. Well, Randy McCloy has been here since yesterday afternoon, and we know he received the first what have is called a hyperbaric chamber treatment yesterday. It's about an hour and a half drive from Morgantown, West Virginia here to Pittsburgh, and he was taken here by ambulance. Doctors deciding that he was finally after a couple of days stable enough to move. But, Miles, they're still saying that he is critically ill.

Now a hyperbaric is a long case, like a long glass case, into which they slide in the patient, and the turn up the atmospheric pressure in there, and the body is infused with pure oxygen. The idea there is to purge the body of carbon monoxide and to, in this case, to hopefully reinvigorate his neurological system, which the doctors here are saying has not been responding the way they were hoping that it would. Now, all of this said, doctors are being somewhat cautious about what the outcome of these treatments might be, and let's listen to that.


RICHARD SHANNON, ALLEGHENY GENERAL HOSPITAL: Can I prove to you that the outcome will be favorably influenced by this? No. It is our sincere hope that it will be, and we just feel at this point, like so many people around the country, that every opportunity should be given.


FREED: Now, McCloy is going to be receiving two 90-minute treatments a day, one approximately every 12 hours. He got the first one about 12 hours ago, and it's our understanding that perhaps around this time, he might be undergoing that second one. We have heard from one of the doctors here at the hospital this morning who says that McCloy -- he doesn't characterize him, Miles, as still being in a coma. He says there is a degree of responsiveness that suggests to them that he is not in a coma.

Back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Jonathan Freed, thank you very much. We'll continue to get updates on Randy McCloy's condition all throughout the morning.

In just a few moments, we will speak with Randy's wife and mother, and the doctor treating Randy will join us at the half hour -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, last month, President Bush couldn't tell us often enough how the situation was improving in Iraq. Today, he's in Chicago today to talk about something less controversial, the economy.

AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken in Chicago this morning.

Hey, Bob, good morning to you.

And why the focus on the economy now?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're expecting some economic numbers to come out about employment. In an hour and a half, they expect them to be favorable numbers, so the president, who is now trying to regain traction as we know, is highlighting the economy by having a very economic kind of day. He's going to be making a tour of the Chicago Board of Trade, then he's going to be speaking to the Chicago Economic Club.

His press secretary, Scott McClellan said we can expect a speech that we've heard before, where he's going to be arguing tax cuts, arguing that it is the tax cuts rather that create jobs in this economy. He's also going to go on with his boilerplate remarks having to do with education, arguing that it is needed -- and nobody will argue with this -- to close the wage gap in the United States, and will go on further to say that the proper amount of trade is need to do increase job opportunities.

But, Soledad, as we all know, tax cuts is where the controversy is. The president is pushing very hard to make the tax cuts that have been initiated permanent, saying the ones that are temporary only create uncertainty. Of course, on the other side, Democrats in particular argue that all of the tax cuts really do is make the rich richer -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Those issues, and then a whole bunch of other ones on his plate, Bob. Do you want to walk through the other ones for us?

FRANKEN: Well, of course we are getting to the point where Congress is going to come back. This is a political year, with members of Congress up for reelection in the House, and some in the Senate.

And the most immediate controversy that's going to be occurring in Washington is the beginning of the confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito next week. The Supreme Court nominee, who has become quite the object of controversy, is going to be going before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Obviously, he has been nominated by President Bush.

There is all of the controversy that continues over Iraq, over intelligence, the National Security Agency questions, and warrantless searches and the Patriot Act, which needs to be renewed from the president's point of view. So there is an awful lot. The economy is just part of this big mosaic.

S. O'BRIEN: Bob Franken for us this morning. Thanks, Bob.

Of course CNN is going to bring you the president's remarks from Chicago live. That begins at 1:00 p.m. Eastern -- Miles.


S. O'BRIEN: As you all know, it's the new year, which means potential for a new you. And our "New You Resolution" kicks off again this Monday. Join us as six people work to change their lives. Each one has a partner to keep them on track. And course all the guidance with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. "New You With the Power of Two" starts Monday here on AMERICAN MORNING. We begin at 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

M. O'BRIEN: And despite persistent lobbying, we are left out of the whole thing.

S. O'BRIEN: We should have to do our own little...

M. O'BRIEN: We can just do it ourselves.

S. O'BRIEN: But Sanjay all takes great tips from the people they focus on, so that they're relevant for everybody, so we can use those tips.

M. O'BRIEN: It's staying with the program, that's the tricky part, isn't it?

S. O'BRIEN: You know what you need to do.

M. O'BRIEN: I know.

S. O'BRIEN: You just got to go do it.

M. O'BRIEN: And then I'm eating those french fries.

Coming up, a frightening new development in the spread of the bird flu. The first human deaths reported outside of East Asia. Is it time for the people in the U.S. to start worrying?

S. O'BRIEN: Also anger in New Orleans Lower Ninth Ward. People say the city's sweeping away their homes without even listening to them. Is that what's happening? We're going to take a look at that.

M. O'BRIEN: Plus, we'll talk to the wife and the mother of the only miner to survive the Sago tragedy. Their story is straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: The sole survivor from the Sago Mine is now getting massive doses of oxygen in a desperate effort to reverse the damage done during that long ordeal underground. He's now in a hospital in Pittsburgh for a so-called hyperbaric treatment, that's essentially an oxygen-rich chamber at very high pressure.

Joining me now is Randy's wife, Anna, his mother, Tambra Flint, and West Virginia's first lady, Gayle Manchin.

Ladies, good morning to you. I know you're exhausted. You're not getting much sleep.

Anna, how is everybody doing? How is Randy doing?

ANNA MCCLOY, RANDAL MCCLOY'S WIFE: We're holding up. As for Randy, we take every day from day to day.

M. O'BRIEN: When you see him, do you get much response? I know you don't get too many opportunities to see him, because nobody wants to unnecessarily weaken him. But when you see him, what is that like?

MCCLOY: It's a blessing that I even get to see him. And yes, there have been some responses to me when I'm with him.

M. O'BRIEN: Do you think he knows you're there?

MCCLOY: I know he knows I'm there.

M. O'BRIEN: Tambra, is it the same for you, when you walk in and you see him? What's it like?

TAMBRA FLINT, RANDAL MCCLOY'S MOTHER: Yes, it is. You know, I start discussing things that we do together that I know that he loves, and I get a big reaction. He moves around a lot, and you can just tell that, you know, he's sensing that I'm there, and that I'm talking to him.

M. O'BRIEN: Tambra, he was the youngest of the miners trapped there behind that barricade. Do you think that maybe the older miners might have shared some of their air with him?

FLINT: I have thought of that, and that is true, a possibility.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. So they really gave of themselves in ways. There is often talk about this brotherhood. That speaks to it in ways that it's hard to come up with in words, isn't it?

FLINT: It is.

M. O'BRIEN: What are your hopes for -- what are the doctors telling you about their hopes for this treatment, where he is sort of saturated in high pressure oxygen? Are they reasonably optimistic?

FLINT: Yes. What they're hoping that this is going to do is, you know, get rid of the long-lasting effects that the carbon monoxide, you know, would wreak on him later on.

M. O'BRIEN: Anna, have you noticed any improvement yet?

MCCLOY: I haven't really had much time to spend with him since the treatment right now.

M. O'BRIEN: Do you know if -- we've been talking about the notes left by some of the other miners. Do you know if Randy wrote a note?

MCCLOY: I'm unaware of it right at this moment.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's turn now to the first lady of West Virginia.

Mrs. Manchin, you've had a chance not to talk to this family, but all of the families. How is everybody holding up right now?

GAYLE MANCHIN, WEST VIRGINIA FIRST LADY: Well, this has been a horrific ordeal, and I think it has taken its toll both physically and mentally on all of the families. Our hearts go out to all of these families that are suffering so deeply right now, and the state of West Virginia is so grateful to the prayers, and concerns and compassion that has come in from around the world.

Anna is just daily getting cards, and phone calls and messages, and you know, that goes so far. I'm here just as a support, to hopefully, if Anna -- her family needs anything as we go through this continued medical treatment and the partnership between Allegheny General and Ruby Memorial in West Virginia, and the doctors working together to make sure that we provide for Randy every medical treatment that may be of some effect to his positive outcome.

M. O'BRIEN: He's certainly getting the best care in the world, there's no question about that. Anna, I know your children are very young. How are they doing? What, if anything, are they comprehending at this point?

MCCLOY: Well, my little boy, when I took him in to see his dad, I told him that his dad was sick. He had worked very long hours, and right now, he need time to get better and to rest. And he told me that, mommy, my daddy is going to get better. And my little girl just keeps hollering dah-dah.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh my goodness, that just must break your heart.


M. O'BRIEN: All right, we wish you the best, all of you...

MCCLOY: Thank you.

FLINT: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: ... as you go through this. Try to get some rest for yourselves. I know you're not getting much of it, but that'll help you.

Thanks for being with us, ladies. Anna McCloy, Tambra Flint and the first lady of West Virginia, Gayle Manchin.

Coming up in a few moments, we will speak with the doctor in charge of Randy's care, get a little bit more on whether those oxygen treatments are helping out -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, thanks, Miles.

Before we get to that, let's get business news. Andy is minding your business coming up, and we're talking about a growing trend which is freezing employee pensions and offering a better 401k instead. What does it mean for your retirement? That's going to be ahead this morning.

And then a little bit later, new worries over the bird flu, after three people in Turkey have died. Is the virus moving closer to the U.S.? That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in moment.



M. O'BRIEN: Coming up on the program, we're following a developing story for you. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon rushed back into surgery. We'll have an update for you straight ahead.

Outrage in New Orleans. In the Lower Ninth Ward, the people who lived there, many of them, infuriated, claiming their homes are literally being swept away. Is the city trying to keep them from moving back in?

We'll have that for you when AMERICAN MORNING returns. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)