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South Pole evacuee gets evaluated at Johns Hopkins

By Kasey Jones
Associated Press / October 25, 2011

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BALTIMORE—It was like a 38-hour Monday for Renee-Nicole Douceur, who flew from New Zealand to Baltimore after being evacuated from the South Pole for treatment of an apparent stroke.

"It was like that movie `Groundhog Day,'" Douceur said in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press from her room at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "It was a day that never ended" as she repeatedly got on and off planes.

Douceur, an engineer, arrived at Hopkins late Monday and immediately underwent tests. "I feel like a guinea pig," she joked. "There are plenty of pokes on my left arm for IVs."

Doctors have been checking her blood pressure every few hours and she's undergoing standard neurology tests. She was due for another MRI and ophthalmic tests Tuesday afternoon.

Douceur was evacuated two months after she began experiencing vision, language and memory problems while working at the National Science Foundation's South Pole research station. Doctors believe she had a stroke, though she's expected to recover almost completely with proper treatment.

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.

Happy to be back in the States, Douceur says her most immediate goal is to be able to drive again. She was glad to meet doctors she had been emailing with for a month. Douceur described deficiencies in her vision, speech and arm, but said she was feeling much better now that she can get "some proper diagnostic tests, get some answers and start rehab."

Doctors have told Douceur that they expect her to come close to full recovery. She expects to undergo rehabilitation in Vermont.

"Then, I have to get my Jeep in Denver and drive to Tucson to pick up my motor coach," she said. The engineer plans to apply for a Science Foundation contract, but doesn't know if her health will disqualify her.