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Rescued doctor longs for S. Pole

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Nielsen: She wants to open a hospital near the North Pole.

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Dr. Jerri Nielsen went to the South Pole, endured temperatures of 100 degrees below zero, had no companions except for the 40 other people stationed at the polar base, and she developed breast cancer and had to be rescued to save her life.

Ask her today what she thinks of the South Pole and she doesn't hesitate:

“I'd go back tomorrow. It's the best place on Earth,” she said.

Dr. Nielsen said life at the pole is so stark and simple it puts things into perspective in a way no place else can.

“It's stripped of all the noise and junk in modern society,” she said. “You hear the voice of God. The emptiness ends up being a blank slate upon which you write your soul.”

Dr. Nielsen made those remarks yesterday to about 200 people at a Medical College of Ohio dinner held in her honor. Dr. Nielsen, a 1977 graduate of MCO, gained worldwide attention in 1999 when she discovered she had breast cancer and government officials decided to rescue her.

The problem was made even worse by the fact that she was working as the sole doctor at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Center. She discovered the cancer in the dead of winter when travel into and out of the pole is next to impossible.

A daring rescue later in 1999 by a New York Air National Guard flight crew saved her life. History seemed to eerily repeat itself last month when, again, the sole doctor at the base had to be rescued because of illness.

And again, it was an Ohio doctor; Dr. Ronald Shemenski of Oak Harbor. Dr. Shemenski, who had developed pancreatitis, is recovering and recently had heart surgery to correct a previously undetected heart problem.

Dr. Nielsen said when she heard about Dr. Shemenski's illness and rescue she “thought it was crazy and a strange fluke.”

Dr. Nielsen has been traveling on a book tour since January to promote her book, A Doctor's Incredible Battle For Survival At the South Pole. She said she hopes to return to medical practice soon and is looking into opening a hospital for the Inuit population near the North Pole.

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