Rescued worker 'hoping for the best'

21:09, Oct 18 2011
Renee Douceur
DELIVERANCE: American Renee Douceur has reached medical expertise, nearly two months after her suspected stroke in Antarctica. In the background, at Christchurch Airport, is the aircraft that flew her from Scott Base.

A sick American woman stranded in the South Pole for nearly two months will get her long-waited medical test results today in Christchurch after a gruelling mercy dash from Antarctica.

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station winter site manager Renee Douceur, 58, landed at Christchurch Airport on Monday night in a United States Air Force C-17 plane after she was airlifted from the South Pole that morning.

"I'm very relieved to be back here," Douceur said from her Christchurch hotel last night.

"The whole struggle for the past seven weeks has been very difficult."

Her South Pole doctor believed she had a stroke on August 27 and recommended immediate medical evacuation but the US Antarctic Programme refused.

It claimed her condition was not urgent and a winter rescue was too risky, forcing her to wait until the first scheduled flights began this week to the South Pole with warmer weather.


Today, she would see a neurologist at a private Christchurch clinic to get the results of yesterday's MRI scan of her brain, and echocardiogram of her heart plus major arteries in her neck.

The results had been sent to specialists in America for review.

"It is what it is. There is nothing I can do about it and I'm hoping for the best. It's nearly over now."

A second opinion from her specialists in America suggested last week she could have a brain tumour.

She expected to remain in Christchurch for a few days before flying home to New Hampshire in the US.

Her rescue by a Basler cargo plane, which had flown from Chile at the weekend to United Kingdom's Rothera Research Station, was delayed by bad weather.

It travelled to the South Pole on Monday to drop supplies and collected Douceur plus another American worker, who wanted to return home early to be with family because his daughter died some months ago. He flew out of New Zealand yesterday, she said.

The pair were flown four and a half hours across the Antarctic continent to McMurdo Station, Antarctica's largest station, where they boarded the larger plane on Monday afternoon. It was also a scheduled flight and took about five hours to reach Christchurch. Douceur said she had been nervous about health risks from flying in the unpressurised cargo plane but noticed no change to her symptoms, which included problems with speech, vision and memory.

She was put on oxygen for the flight to McMurdo and a South Pole doctor, who had cared for her during her ordeal, accompanied her.

A critical care nurse from McMurdo joined her on the journey to New Zealand and remained with her in Christchurch for support. Douceur had spent a year at the South Pole, her third stint in Antarctica.

The Press