Video: Ailing woman flown out of South Pole

  1. Transcript of: Ailing woman flown out of South Pole

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Now we turn to the drama that's been playing out at the South Pole , where an American woman had to wait seven weeks to get out to get medical care for an apparent stroke she suffered while on the job. Tonight she is out, and NBC 's Anne Thompson picks up the story.

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: The final taxi of this military plane ended Renee-Nicole Douceur 's seven-week struggle to get proper treatment for a suspected stroke.

    Ms. RENEE-NICOLE DOUCEUR: I had lost half my vision, and that was with both eyes. And it's come back now, but I have difficulty reading. Talking, I tend to jumble words sometimes.

    THOMPSON: The 58-year-old's calm demeanor after landing in New Zealand masked her fear during those weeks isolated at the South Pole . Douceur ran the South Pole base for Raytheon Polar Services and the National Science Foundation . She fell ill at the end of August and asked to be airlifted out, but Raytheon and the Science Foundation refused, claiming her condition wasn't life-threatening after consulting with doctors and that the extreme cold posed too great a risk to the rescue crew. Instead, Douceur had to wait for the first regularly scheduled cargo flight of the warming season to drop off supplies and take her out in an unpressurized plane.

    Ms. DOUCEUR: They kept the plane at very low altitudes, so the air crew knew what to do if there's something that had happened to me. But luckily, nothing. It was a fantastic flight.

    THOMPSON: Her journey from the bottom of the earth started at 4:16 Sunday afternoon New York time , taking off for the four-hour flight to the McMurdo Station . There she switched planes and in less than an hour was on to Christchurch , a seven-hour-plus trip, landing at 4:55 this morning. Now in New Zealand , an MRI will help determine if Douceur had a stroke or if her symptoms were the result of something else such as a tumor or multiple sclerosis. But one doctor Douceur consulted in the US is optimistic... Dr. PAUL NYQUIST ( Associate Professor of Neurology , Johns Hopkins University ): I think the fact that her symptoms haven't progressed steadily over the last six weeks is the best sign for her.

    THOMPSON: ...hoping her adventure at the South Pole leaves Douceur with memories and nothing else. Anne Thompson , NBC News, New York.

NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 10/17/2011 6:20:15 PM ET 2011-10-17T22:20:15

A sick American engineer who had been working at the South Pole for a year has been successfully evacuated and said Monday she slept for the whole plane ride to New Zealand for medical treatment.

Renee-Nicole Douceur described the flight in an email to The Associated Press shortly after landing in Christchurch at 4:55 a.m. ET

."My brain is still intact," she wrote. She said she is scheduled for tests on Tuesday.

Douceur, 58, is a Seabrook, N.H., resident who worked as a manager for research station contractor Raytheon Polar Services Co. She asked for an emergency evacuation after having what doctors believed was a stroke in August, but officials rejected her request because of bad weather, saying that sending a rescue plane was too dangerous and that her condition wasn't life-threatening.

Story: Storm delays South Pole pickup of ailing American

Doctors she contacted for a second opinion say a tumor may have caused her vision and speech problems.

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

A storm delayed a flight attempt Saturday. The first part of Douceur's trip was to board a plane to the National Science Foundation's research station in Antarctica, before heading to New Zealand.

A Raytheon spokesman had said that the decision to evacuate Douceur rested with the National Science Foundation, not Raytheon. The National Science Foundation had 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.

A storm delayed a flight attempt Saturday.

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.

The Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this report.

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