Dr. Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald died on Tuesday in Southwick, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
The name may not be familiar, but when I write that she was the doctor isolated in the South Pole who operated on herself, this may recall the story.
Newly divorced and seeking to shake up her life, the Ohio emergency-room doctor was spending the polar winter providing medical care to about 40 scientists, construction workers and others.
Shortly after her 47th birthday, in March, she found a small lump in her breast. It was just weeks after the last flight of the winter season had departed from the remote outpost and months before temperatures would warm enough for a plane to safely land.
Dr. FitzGerarld was the only doctor at the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in winter 1999. Dr. Jerri discovered a lump in her breast during a season when extreme cold did not permit a rescue.
Dr. Jerri used only ice and a local anesthetic to performed her own biopsy. She had the help of a resident welder, who had practiced by sticking needles into an apple and a shriveled yam. Slides of the tissue sample were transmitted to U.S. specialists through a video link, but they were inconclusive.
The need for immediate anti-cancer drugs was apparent, but she had to wait months before an airdro by a US Air Force plane. The pilot made the drop during a blackout (24 hr of darkness) and in freezing conditions in July.. Just as it had been months to wait for the anti-cancer drugs, it was also months before rescue by the Air National Guard in October.
She documented this experience in a book entitled “Ice-Bund: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole.” The book was later made into a television movie.
In 2005, the cancer returned. Never to let life pass her by, she remarried a man she had met years ago while vacationing. For the remaining years, Dr. Jerri travelled as a motivational speaker. She died in 2009 at the age of 57.
Dr. Jerri, your perseverance and courage makes it an honour to include you on my site.