[MOL] A story of bravery to share w/you [01048] Medicine On Line

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[MOL] A story of bravery to share w/you

 <A HREF="http://www.pathfinder.com/people/weekly/features/index.html">PEOPLE 
ONLINE | Jerri Nielsen 11/1/99</A> 

Prisoner at Earth's End 
Confronted with the specter of cancer, a brave woman comes home from the Pole 
  Enthusiastic and outgoing, Nielsen jumped at the opportunity to join the 
U.S. team in Antarctica.  
November 1,1999 -- At the ends of the earth, there is no margin for error. 
Dropping to an altitude of 300 feet in the early morning hours of Oct. 16, 
Air National Guard Maj. George McAllister, 39, could barely see past the 
windshield of his LC-130 Hercules cargo plane as he and his 10-man crew made 
their approach to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, their vision 
obscured by the blowing snow of the polar winds. Then suddenly they spotted 
the lights of the camp and swooped in for a bone-jarring touchdown on the 
crude frozen runway. "That was one of the most dangerous landings I've ever 
made, what with the wind, cold and awful visibility," McAllister, who has 
been flying to the South Pole for 11 years, later recalled. "But we were 

Just inside the entrance of the Amundsen-Scott station, the camp's physician, 
Dr. Jerri Nielsen, 47, of Canfield, Ohio, had been waiting expectantly for 
the plane's arrival. As the parka-clad Nielsen headed out to meet the 
Hercules, other workers swarmed toward the aircraft as well, some jumping and 
waving their arms. "We're the first outside people they've seen in nine 
months," observed one of the crew. With the temperature hovering at 60 below 
zero, the plane had to be off the ground again in minutes or run the risk of 
having its hydraulic fluids freeze solid. Mail and provisions were offloaded, 
but the real goal of the mission was to get the ailing Nielsen out. In just 
22 minutes her friends had wished her good luck and seen her onboard, and the 
plane was off again, taking her on the next leg of what had already become an 
extraordinary journey. 

"Jerri seemed to be more interested in that excitement, wanting to see the 
person who gets shot in the abdomen, not the person who comes in to be 
treated for their diabetes and hypertension," says Dr. Michael Stark, a 
former medical school class-mate. 

Over the past months, Nielsen's South Pole saga has unfolded as both a 
gripping human drama and a modern allegory of the limits of technology. After 
discovering in June that she had a tumor in her breast, she could not be 
evacuated because of the weather, which held her prisoner for more than four 
months-marooning her, in an age of jet travel and instant communication, as 
surely as an 18th-century sailor on a desert island. With her rescue last 
week, there was finally the glimmer of a happy ending. As Nielsen mordantly 
told friends in an August e-mail:"It has been a Hell of an adventure, but not 
the one that I had planned." 

In fact, the path that took Nielsen to the South Pole in the first place was 
hardly direct. Born and raised in Salem, Ohio, the oldest of three children 
of builder Phil Cahill, now 71, and his wife, Lorine, 67, a psychologist, she 
studied zoology at Ohio University, where she met her husband, Jay Nielsen, 
whom she married in 1974. Jerri graduated from the MedicalCollege of Ohio in 
1977, two years after Jay. From the start, friends and colleagues noticed 
their different temperaments. While Jay gravitated toward family medicine, 
Jerri chose emergency care. "Jerri seemed to be more interested in that 
excitement," says Dr. Michael Stark, a former medical school class- mate, 
"wanting to see the person who gets shot in the abdomen, not the person who 
comes in to be treated for their diabetes and hypertension." 

That enthusiasm carried . . . 
Copyright  1999 Time Inc. New Media. 
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