Nightly News   |  October 15, 2011

Stroke victim stuck at bottom of the world

Pilots are waiting for the weather to relent so they can fly to the South Pole to evacuate an American woman who suffered a stroke there in late August. NBC's George Lewis reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

LESTER HOLT, anchor: Tonight, a story playing out at the bottom of the world. Pilots on the South Pole are waiting for the weather to improve so they can finally evacuate an ailing American woman , the manager of a research station , who's been waiting for weeks for a ride out. NBC 's George Lewis has the latest.

GEORGE LEWIS reporting: Renee-Nicole Douceur was sitting at her desk when she suffered the stroke seven weeks ago. At first, she was elated by word that a flight might finally be on the way.

Ms. RENEE-NICOLE DOUCEUR (Antarctica): I am excited, even in my tiredness and whatever and feeling a little rush now. So I'm ready to go.

LEWIS: But because of treacherous weather at the South Pole this time of year, today's flight to evacuate Douceur had to be postponed.

MARIA LaROSA reporting: Along the coast we have winds in excess of 35 miles per hour steady. Chances of snow likely as we go in through tonight, the next several days.

LEWIS: Airlifting personnel from the South Pole has always been risky. Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald , a physician who discovered she had breast cancer and had only limited ways of treating herself, was rescued in October 1999 . Douceur contends that after she suffered her stroke she should have been rescued earlier. She says it's been done before in extreme weather conditions. Two weeks after he was diagnosed with pancreatitis, station doctor Ron Shemenski was airlifted out of the South Pole in late April 2001 .

Dr. RONALD SHEMENSKI: It was minus 97 degrees when they arrived, and there was no moon or anything. So it was pitch black, and they flew in and brought me off.

LEWIS: The National Science Foundation , the agency that runs the research station , says such rescues are done only if the victims are in a life-threatening situation. As a stroke victim, Douceur says her life is at risk...

Ms. DOUCEUR: I have no idea if I'm just walking around with a -- with a ticking bomb in my -- in my brain or not.

LEWIS: ...as she waits for that first flight out. George Lewis , NBC News, Los Angeles .