NSF Press Statement

Press Statement - July 6, 1999 Horizontal Rule

Media contacts:
Mary Hanson (703) 292-8070 mhanson@nsf.gov
Peter West (703) 292-8070 pwest@nsf.gov

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Statement by Dr. Karl A. Erb
Office of Polar Programs

On Medical Status of South Pole Personnel

After consulting several medical experts in the United States, officials of the National Science Foundation (NSF) have determined that an air drop of medical supplies is the best option immediately available to treat a woman "wintering over" at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The woman recently discovered a lump in her breast.

Officials at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Va. were recently notified about the condition of the 47-year-old woman, a U.S. citizen employed by Antarctic Support Associates (ASA) in Englewood, Colo. Medical experts were contacted immediately and were provided information about the patient through a satellite communications link, so they could assess the threat to her health. After a thorough review of the information, the patient and her physicians decided on a course of drug treatment that they consider appropriate to maintain her health and safety. NSF, in consultation with the U.S. Air Force, determined that it would be possible to fly an aircraft to the South Pole station to deliver the necessary medical supplies. The 62nd Airlift Wing at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Wash., is preparing for the mission, which is expected to take place within a week.

The extreme conditions at the Pole during the austral winter - with low temperatures averaging 80 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and almost absolute darkness -- make this a challenging flight for both the aircrew and the aircraft. We are grateful to the Air Force for supporting and undertaking this difficult, but necessary, humanitarian mission, as well as the support we have received from ASA, the National Cancer Institute, NASA and several physician-advisors in the private sector.

NSF, through the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), operates three scientific stations on the Antarctic continent; Amundsen-Scott; McMurdo, on the Ross Sea; and Palmer, on the Antarctic Peninsula. ASA provides logistical support to the scientific mission of the USAP. Personnel who are selected to spend the winter months at the South Pole are screened for medical conditions that might require treatment beyond that which the station clinic is capable of providing.

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