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Sick U.S. engineer evacuated from South Pole

- Associated Press - Monday, October 17, 2011

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A sick New Hampshire engineer who had been working at the South Pole for a year was 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.

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

Ms. 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.

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, Ms. Douceur said last week she now can 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 Ms. 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 earlier said the decision to evacuate Ms. Douceur rested with the National Science Foundation, not Raytheon. The National Science Foundation said it must balance the potential benefit of an evacuation against the possibility of harm to the patient, the flight crew and workers on the ground.

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.

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