HAMPTON FALLS, N.H. - The South Pole engineer who riveted world interest a year ago when she couldn't get emergency evacuation from her remote Antartica research station for treatment of a stroke says she's 80 percent back to normal.
But Renee-Nicole Douceur, 59, Hampton Falls, N.H., considers herself lucky to be alive and still has concerns about why it took her employer, Raytheon Polar Services, six weeks to get her airlifted to a hospital.
"All I was asking for was for them to proposition a plane so it could come for me if a weather window opened," said Douceur. "They refused. I felt they were gambling with my life. I knew the longer I went without treatment, the more chance I had of permanent brain damage."
Douceur suffered a stroke at the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole last Aug. 27, and had to wait until Oct. 17, 2011, to board the first cargo flight out.
Douceur's plight played out on the Internet through a website set up by her niece to lobby Raytheon and the National Science Foundation, which runs the Amundsen-Scott station, to move faster to rescue Douceur. Media throughout the world broadcast and published stories about the trapped engineer.
Raytheon officials said at the time they did not consider her condition life-threatening and that it would be too dangerous to send a rescue plane for her any earlier because of the total darkness, extremely cold temperatures and high winds at that time of year at the South Pole.
Douceur, in an interview Tuesday with the Newburyport, Mass., Daily News, said she suffered the stroke while working at her desktop computer, first noticing the effects when her vision faltered.
"I'd been up for 48 hours, I thought to myself, 'You're tired, you just need some sleep,'" she said.
But after six hours of sleep, she said, there was no improvement. So Douceur went to the research station's doctor. He first thought her vision problem was a detached retina but after consulting with a medical expert in Texas, it was determined she had a stroke.
"I cried," she said. "My mother had had a stroke."
Douceur said her eyesight, speech, memory and congnitive skills continued to worsen as she waited for a plane to take her out of the South Pole for treatment. Worried that she might die or never recover, she pressed for emergency evacuation.
"This was my brain they were dealing with," said Douceur. "I'm not a stupid person, and I understand policy and procedure. But when a doctor says, 'She needs to go,' then you need to go."
Six weeks after her stroke, when the weather warmed to minus-50 degrees and daylight began to appear, Douceur was flown to a hospital in New Zealand, then to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She was released from Johns Hopkins last November, and has been recuperating ever since in a spacious motor home in Hampton Falls, N.H.
"I'm still having trouble with my short-term memory, but my vision is much better and I can drive now," said Douceur. "If I'm talking a lot, sometimes I slur my words, and now and then I can make up some crazy words. But I recognize when I'm doing that, and I correct myself."
Douceur has dubbed her 45-foot motor home "The Gypsy Queen" and said she plans to drive to the western U.S. as soon as she is able.
"Driving is my passion," she said, adding that so too is "having good medical facilities close by."
Angeljean Chiaramida is a reporter for the Newburyport, Mass., Daily News. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.