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Video: Stroke victim waits for rescue in South Pole

  1. Transcript of: Stroke victim waits for rescue in South Pole

    AMY ROBACH, co-host: This morning a life and death mission is underway at the South Pole to rescue an American scientist who suffered a stroke. Her name is Renee-Nicole Douceur and she joins us by phone from the South Pole . Good morning, Renee .

    Ms. RENEE-NICOLE DOUCEUR (Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station): Good morning.

    ROBACH: I know that you have been desperately trying to leave the research station after suffering a stroke back in August. And I also understand a cargo plane should be arriving in a matter of hours. After all you've been through, did you ever lose hope that this day would come?

    Ms. DOUCEUR: I was hoping that the day would have came a lot earlier than just the regularly scheduled flight. But now that the weather conditions have let up, it will allow the planes to come from Chile over to the United Kingdom 's Rothera Base . That the plane should probably be in the air pretty soon now to come over to the South Pole .

    ROBACH: Well, that is certainly good news. I know weather had been a factor. There were concerns about the safety of the crew coming in to get you. Any indication on exactly when you will get on that plane and where you will be heading?

    Ms. DOUCEUR: Right now, the last -- the latest update was that first they said it was going to be 6 AM my time over here. Now it's going to be probably closer to 8:00. It's going to be the first time that we've seen any other human beings here for the last eight months.

    ROBACH: That's incredible .

    Ms. DOUCEUR: And so once -- I know.

    ROBACH: How are you feeling? I know you've had vision problems and speech impairments since suffering the stroke, and you have concerns that perhaps you're suffering from more than just a stroke. Give me an update on how you're doing.

    Ms. DOUCEUR: Well, I am -- I'm staying in -- hanging in there. I still have my vision impairment and the speech impediment. My -- for the last seven weeks, which has been seven -- exactly seven weeks since my stroke, that the only testing that's done over here is basically I read an eye chart once a day and get my blood pressure and oxygen checked, and then I try to count backwards through multiples from 100 to see if I get that right. My spirits are high and it's just been a long ordeal and it's time to leave. The doctor has been clamoring for me to leave as soon as possible, and this is as soon as possible that can be, I guess.

    ROBACH: I know a lot of it has been the not knowing. We hope you get some answers and your much needed medical attention very soon. Renee-Nicole Douceur , have a safe flight and thanks so much.

    Ms. DOUCEUR: Thank you very much . Bye-bye .

msnbc.com news services
updated 10/15/2011 9:23:26 PM ET 2011-10-16T01:23:26

An Antarctic storm stymied efforts to evacuate a sick American engineer from the South Pole Saturday, The Press of New Zealand reported.

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A cargo plane is expected to fly from Chile to the United Kingdom's Rothera Base and then go on to the National Science Foundation's South Pole research station to pick up Renee-Nicole Douceur. It is scheduled to take her first to the foundation's McMurdo station in Antarctica and then on to Christchurch, New Zealand.

Douceur, who's from Seabrook, N.H., a coastal town of 9,000 residents 40 miles southeast of Concord, is a manager for research station contractor Raytheon Polar Services Co. She asked for an earlier emergency evacuation after having what doctors believed was a stroke Aug. 27. Doctors she contacted for a second opinion say a tumor may have caused her medical problems, including faulty vision and speech and memory difficulties.

Douceur told NBC News on Saturday that the weather was expected to improve and allow the plane through soon.

"I was hoping that the day would have come a lot earlier than a regularly scheduled flight, but now that the weather conditions have cleared up to allow the plane to come over from Chile ... the plane should be here pretty soon," she said.

It will be the "first time we've seen other human beings here for the last eight months," she said.

She still suffers speech and vision impairments since her stroke, Douceur told NBC News.

"My spirits are high, it's just been a long ordeal and it's time for me to leave," she said.

After initially having half her field of vision vanish, Douceur, 58, said she can now read if she concentrates on just a few words at a time. She sometimes jumbles words and has had trouble remembering simple lists of words during medical evaluations.

Patrick Hovey / National Science Foundation
An elevated dorm at NSF's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station shows just how harsh the weather is there.

But officials rejected her earlier evacuation request because of bad weather, saying that sending a rescue plane was too dangerous and that her condition wasn't life-threatening.

Raytheon spokesman Jon Kasle said Tuesday that the decision to evacuate Douceur rested with the National Science Foundation, not Raytheon. The National Science Foundation said it must balance the potential benefit of an evacuation against the possibility of harm for the patient, the flight crew and workers on the ground.

In October 1999, a U.S. Air Force plane flew to the station to rescue Dr. Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald, who had diagnosed and treated her own breast cancer for months before her evacuation. After she had multiple surgeries in the United States, the cancer went into remission, but it returned. She died in 2009 at age 57.

Douceur, who has worked at the South Pole for about a year, told The Associated Press on Tuesday she understands the risks involved in arranging an evacuation. She said she wanted to take advantage of a good weather window.

"There's an opening," she said, "but if they don't make that opening then it's probably going to be pushed on to next week before I get a chance."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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