CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A few days before the Upper Big Branch coal mine blew up, James Woods had a nightmare -- he was pinned down, held by his arms, unable to move.
It was, his daughter believes, "God's way of telling him that something was going to happen."
After the blast, Woods awoke from a coma in a Charleston hospital bed and tried to yank out feeding and ventilator tubes. Doctors were forced to tie down his arms for more than a week.
His dream was right on the mark.
Twenty-nine men died inside Massey Energy Co.'s mine in Montcoal, an hour south of Charleston. One other man was briefly hospitalized; Woods was pulled out barely alive.
More than a month after the incident, the devout Christian, devoted family man and determined prankster is a fraction of his former self, unable to converse and seemingly lost in a brain that was starved of oxygen from carbon monoxide exposure.
"You know he's in there," daughter Sherry Lilly said recently in the family's first interview since the April 5 explosion. "Sometimes he'll have an expression that you're used to seeing, but then sometimes it's just blank."
Woods -- a husband at 16, a father at 18, and 54 by the day of the blast -- suffered bruised lungs and brain trauma, and his family has no idea what, if anything, he remembers. They don't talk about the incident in front of him. They don't ask, either.
They just thank God for miracles large and small -- his survival, three consecutive words from his mouth, his ability to walk again.
Those first steps were "amazing to see, and very tearful," Lilly said. "It was like watching a baby walk for the first time. It really was. I have three children. It was like, 'Wow.'
"Physically, he's doing good, but mentally, he's like a small child. He doesn't even know why he's here."
Woods had worked in the mines for 17 years and was an electrician at Upper Big Branch, where he was part of the "old man crew" -- miners who took the long ride to the coal seam together and whose experience added up to decades.
Woods and eight others were aboard an underground vehicle that was on its way out of the mine at the time of the explosion, according to Danny Spratt, state mine rescue team coordinator. Seven of those men were killed.