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Sick engineer evacuated from South Pole had stroke

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / October 18, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H.—An American engineer who was successfully evacuated from the South Pole to New Zealand says preliminary medical tests indicate she had a stroke and that she is expected to recover well, though not completely.

Renee-Nicole Douceur landed in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Monday, two months after she began experiencing vision, language and memory problems while working at the National Science Foundation's South Pole research station.

She told The Associated Press in an email Tuesday night that a neurologist who reviewed her MRI and echocardiogram exams believes she had a stroke on the left side of her brain, in a blood vessel too small to be seen on the medical scans.

The neurologist said Douceur is likely to make a "very good" recovery with proper treatment, "though not 100 percent," she wrote.

"So in a nutshell, no tumor or other type of degenerative disease noted!" she wrote. "This is a huge relief (at least for now."

Douceur joked that she asked the doctor if she could start jumping out of airplanes again and that he told her "Give it at least six months."

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 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.

Douceur said Tuesday that doctors in New Zealand would consult with others she contacted at Johns Hopkins University to further review her test results, and that more indepth testing is likely once she returns to the United States.

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.