Statement by Dr. Karl A. Erb
Office of Polar Programs
Update On South Pole Medical Air Drop
The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) are very pleased with the overall success of a mission to airdrop medical supplies and equipment at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to assist in the treatment of a woman who recently discovered a lump in one of her breasts.
NSF thanks and congratulates the U.S. Air Force, which conducted the operation and the staff of Antarctic Support Associates (ASA), of Englewood, Colo., which helped to coordinate the logistics for the drop.
Six bundles of material, including medicines, diagnostic tools, telecommunications equipment, and some fresh fruits and vegetables and mail for station personnel were dropped in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 11 by an Air Force C-141 cargo jet.
Station personnel braved extreme cold to safely retrieve the bundles. They immediately began to inventory their contents. At this point it appears that all critical medical supplies survived the drop. These will allow the patient, in consultation with medical experts in the United States, to begin an appropriate course of treatment.
Most of the electronic equipment, including microscopes, cameras, and equipment to improve communications, also appears to have arrived intact. Station personnel continue to test items to insure that they are working. Some redundancy was factored into the cargo manifest so that the patient's treatment would not be compromised by any breakage.
An ultrasound unit included in the drop was damaged irreparably. No back-up ultrasound was included. This was because the ultrasound equipment, while considered a useful addition to tools included in the drop, was not considered vital to a successful treatment regime.
The Air Force safely delivered videoconferencing equipment that will help reduce the geographic isolation of the station by allowing "real time," high-quality video consultations between the patient and her U.S.-based medical team. This will substantially augment the televideo capability previously available at the Pole. Although the daily communications "window" at South Pole is limited because of its location, this technology will greatly aid the exchange of information between herself and medical staff in the United States.
These capabilities, made possible by the development of information technologies in recent years, were impossible even a scant five years ago, when the only communications with the station during the austral winter was by high-frequency radio. They were developed initially to enable scientists in the United States to communicate with their colleagues at the station and to operate equipment there by remote control.
Although the patient will be the primary and immediate beneficiary of these technological advancements, other station personnel, present and future, will also benefit, as will USAP's scientific programs.
The patient is in very good spirits and appreciates the concern and support from so many around the world. She appreciates also the respect that has been shown for her privacy during a difficult process, as do we.
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