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Monday
Oct102011

Woman Pushes for Rescue After Stroke in South Pole

File photo. Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(ANTARCTICA) -- “Great God! This is an awful place,” wrote Robert Falcon Scott when he reached the South Pole in 1912. He and his comrades got there in January -- the height of summer in the Southern Hemisphere -- a month after Roald Amundsen’s team, and died in the cold as they tried to walk back to safety.

Now it is winter at the pole, and Renee-Nicole Douceur, the manager of the Amundsen-Scott research station there, says she is trapped after suffering a stroke in August. Douceur’s niece, Sydney Raines, has mounted an online campaign to get her out of there, even though Raytheon Polar Services, which runs the station for the National Science Foundation, says for the moment it is still too dark, cold and dangerous to send a plane for her.

Raytheon says that, weather permitting, it will try to send a plane on Oct. 17. It will be a risky operation, trying to land without runway lights, possibly in winds that can send snow blowing high into the air. The cold is such that if the plane turns off its engines, its fuel may take on the consistency of jelly or caramel.

“The stroke has affected my stereo vision,” Douceur, 58, wrote in a post on SaveRenee.org. “Though I see OK far but when I try to read I only see the first few words of a sentence before I need to shift and refocus on the next several words. When I read paragraphs I get easily mixed up trying to distinguish sentences.”

On Sunday, Douceur, who is from Seabrook, N.H., gave a telephone interview to WMUR-TV, the ABC affiliate in Manchester, N.H. “We’re running kind of cool, we’re about minus 74 degrees right now,” she joked.

Doctors in the U.S., queried by ABC News, said they did not want to comment on Douceur’s condition from afar, but agreed the critical time for a stroke patient is the first few hours.

“Strokes, in general, need to be diagnosed quickly,” said Dr. Ralph Sacco of the University of Miami. “We’re obviously way beyond that now.”

But the fact that she’s been giving interviews is promising, said Dr. Patrick Lyden of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

“She has not had a massive or even moderate stroke,” he wrote in an email. “She is stable. From what I read, it seems as though the risk of an evacuation outweighs the risk of stroke complications. But I don’t know her status.”

Douceur, by phone to WMUR, said, “We think it’s a stroke; we’re not even sure about that. My doctor even mentioned to me, she said it that could possibly be a tumor. So everyone is guessing.”

If all goes well, Douceur would be flown to New Zealand, where she can get a CT scan or an MRI, and treatment for whatever has actually happened to her.

Raytheon’s Jonathan Kasle sent a statement saying the South Pole Station has a surgeon and an emergency room physician. It said they can provide care or use a telemedicine link to consult with specialists in the U.S. But plane flights to and from the pole are a dicey proposition this time of year.

“During the winter period, extremely cold temperatures and high winds make an extraction dangerous for all involved, passengers as well as crew,” Raytheon said, “and such an extraction is considered only in life threatening conditions.”

Douceur’s family, meanwhile, became anxious waiting and urged people to petition the NSF, Raytheon and even the White House.

“Tell them the money saved denying Renee a Medevac flight will not be worth the bad press,” says their website. “Ask them to do the right thing.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio