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South Pole Stroke Victim Arrives in New Zealand

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand) -- Renee-Nicole Douceur, a scientist who suffered an apparent stroke at a South Pole research facility in the dead of winter, landed at a New Zealand airport Monday after an emergency evacuation.

Douceur, 58, boarded a U.S. Air Force cargo plane that took off from McMurdo Station in Antarctica and landed at the Christchurch airport at about 5 a.m. ET.

Douceur and a medical attendant were taken from her Amundsen-Scott research station. After landing, she was taken to a hospital in New Zealand. But even when the flight was cleared to evacuate her, there was still danger -- the cabin could not be pressurized because of the thin surrounding air.

After arriving in New Zealand, Douceur said it was a major concern. "I was worried about...whether it could do some more serious damage...or a stroke or who knows what else...They kept the plane at very low altitudes so the aircrew knew what to do if there was something that had happened to me."

She was evacuated seven weeks after suffering what might have been a stroke at the research site. Raytheon operates the site for the National Science Foundation and Douceur said she was stunned when the company told her no special flight would be scheduled for her evacuation because of dangerous flight conditions.

Douceur will receive a CAT Scan and MRI Tuesday morning, and then will move on to Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Maryland.

Rescuing Douceur from her South Pole station was a controversial effort -- it is still winter at the pole, with temperatures as low as 58 degrees below zero at last report. In October, less than a month after the equinox, there is constant twilight. Winds can kick snow hundreds of feet into the air, making it dangerous for a plane to land on the ice.

A cargo plane designated for her rescue headed from Chile toward the South Pole Friday, but blizzard winds and blinding snow prevented the aircraft from landing safely.

The last risky medical evacuation from the South Pole was that of Jerri Nielsen Fitzgerald, a physician who had diagnosed and treated her own breast cancer until she could be flown out in 1999.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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