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Accident delays Antarctic research -

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Accident delays Antarctic research

The World Today - Friday, 19 December , 2008 12:46:00

Reporter: Felicity Ogilvie

ELEANOR HALL: And one of the recent emergencies Dr Press has overseen in his recent role involved
the rescue of an expeditioner with the Australian Antarctic Division.

Dwayne Rooke fractured his feet and pelvis in an accident at Davis station in October. It took
three weeks to rescue him and the delay has meant that the research teams are now deferring their
scientific work until next season, as Felicity Ogilvie reports.

FELICITY OGILVIE: It took almost three weeks to rescue Dwayne Rooke from Davis station in
Antarctica. The chef was in pain after fracturing his pelvis and feet when he fell off a quad bike.

The rescue involved the Australian Antarctic Division's research ship being diverted to Davis
station where staff built a new runway on the sea ice. The US air force used the runway to fly the
injured chef to Hobart.

The director of the Antarctic Division Tony Press says the rescue took weeks because Davis station
is 5,000 kilometres south of Hobart.

TONY PRESS: It's still a frontier. We were very lucky with Dwayne that we had an experienced doctor
and very good medical facilities so we were able to keep him stable while we organised the rescue.

FELICITY OGILVIE: The rescue has forced half of this summer's flights between Hobart and Casey
station to be cancelled. Some research has also been cancelled.

TONY PRESS: The major project that was abandoned for this year and rescheduled for next year is
looking at the benthic communities, the sea floor assemblages of plants and animals.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Fifty-six-year-old Jerri Nielsen knows what it's like to be sick and stuck in
Antarctica. She was the only doctor at the US South Pole station in 1998. Two weeks after the last
plane left Dr Nielsen found a lump in her breast.

JERRI NIELSEN: The people who stay for the year know that there is no way in or out of the South
Pole in the winter. In fact we were told that it would be easier to get off a space station than to
get us off the South Pole.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Because it was winter there was no way out of Antarctica and Dr Nielsen thought
she would die.

But although planes couldn't land, the air force were able to fly over the base and drop
chemotherapy drugs for the doctor to treat her cancer.

JERRI NIELSEN: The chemotherapy was done by having a heavy equipment mechanic start IVs and then
run the chemotherapy by counting every drop that went into me, then stopping, doing the
mathematics, figuring out if we needed to go faster or slower.

FELICITY OGILVIE: When Dr Nielsen made it back to the US the lump was cut out of her breast and she
thought she'd made a full recovery. Dr Nielsen wrote a book about her experience and travelled the
world speaking. But the cancer has recently come back. This time it's in her brain.

JERRI NIELSEN: There's no way of knowing if the experience in the Antarctica made it come back
sooner or perhaps it made it come back later. You know, maybe if I hadn't been in the Antarctic I
wouldn't have done as well. I don't think there's any way of knowing that.

I do know that because of the cancer my life was really enriched. I saw a lot of things and
experienced many things, met people and went places that I wouldn't have gone if I'd not gotten
cancer at the South Pole.

FELICITY OGILVIE: Okay and just going back there to the South Pole, you've had the experience of
both being the only doctor on base and also being a patient, actually being sick down there.

JERRI NIELSEN: Yes.

FELICITY OGILVIE: What is it like to be in that remote environment that you say it's easier to pick
someone up from outer space than it is down there? What's it like to be sick and stuck in
Antarctica?

JERRI NIELSEN: I think it was easier for me to be the person who was sick than to have someone else
be sick and have me be unable to treat them. I think also that it was easier in some ways than
being in the United States because one of things that will really make you question yourself and
wonder is choices and I didn't have any choices so I really couldn't make the wrong choice because
you know that you don't have the modern conveniences that you have in what we call the real world.

ELEANOR HALL: But she did make it out. That's Dr Jerri Nielsen ending that report from Felicity
Ogilvie in Hobart.