The engineer evacuated from a South Pole research station is recovering well from her stroke, her doctor said Friday.
Renee-Nicole Douceur, who traveled to Johns Hopkins Hospital this week for treatment, had a minor to moderate stroke, but tests did not find any tumors, according to Dr. Paul Nyquist. She is regaining her vision, and her speech is improving.
"Overall, I think she's going to make a full recovery and that's attributed to her, and the fact she's trying so hard, which is a key thing in recovery," Nyquist said. "She did a lot of her recovery on her own. She sought out ways to challenge her vision and get input from physicians outside the continent. She did very well."
Douceur was evacuated two months after she began experiencing vision, language and memory problems while working as station manager at the National Science Foundation's South Pole research station. The 58-year-old nuclear engineer from Seabrook, N.H., was coordinating an emergency air drop at the station when all of a sudden her vision faltered, she said.
"I knew something went wrong when I couldn't see half the paperwork in front of me," she said. "Half the computer screen was missing. It was instantaneous."
Despite being stuck at the South Pole during the eight-month winter period when there are just 49 people at the station and there aren't regular flights, she wasn't afraid.
"I wasn't scared at all," she said. "My personality is to try to stay cool. I never expected adversity."
Douceur asked for an emergency evacuation in August, but officials rejected her request because of bad weather. Once she heard she might have to wait months, she realized she would have to push if she wanted to get medical treatment elsewhere.
"I refocused and realized, `Now I have to advocate for myself,'" she said.
Douceur traveled to New Zealand, then Australia before passing through San Francisco and Washington on the way to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on Monday. Nyquist said it's not clear if conditions at the South Pole caused her stroke, but it seems likely that the high altitude could have contributed. She is at risk for another, as all stroke patients are, but she will be on medications to lower the risk.
Douceur has always been adventurous, skydiving and working all over the world, but she said jumping out of a plane is not on the radar. She is hoping doctors will clear her to drive again.
She would like to go back to the South Pole, but she may need to return to the nuclear industry instead, she said.
Douceur expects to be discharged Saturday and will stay in the area for a few days before traveling to New Hampshire where she will stay with friends.