OCTOBER 15, 21:05 EDT

South Pole Doc the Adventurous Type

Associated Press Writer

Dr. Jerri Nielsen

CANFIELD, Ohio (AP) — The doctor rescued at the South Pole so she can be treated for a lump in her breast had jumped at the chance for adventure in one of the most remote spots on Earth.

It was an experience that perfectly suited Dr. Jerri Nielsen, 47, a former cheerleader who went on to practice emergency medicine, fly her own plane and trek through the rain forests of the Amazon.

Nielsen arrived in Antarctica last November after going through a difficult divorce. Five months ago, she discovered a lump in her breast but had been stranded by the polar weather ever since.

``She likes a lot of stimulation and a lot of change,'' her mother, Lorine Cahill, said at the family's rural home, where she received an e-mail photo of her daughter, bald from chemotherapy. ``She didn't go there to escape. She went there for an adventure. She was always courageous.''

Rescue plane

Nielsen, the only physician in the National Science Foundation's research station, had to treat herself — helped by satellite consultations with specialists — after an emergency air drop of medical supplies on July 11 provided her with chemotherapy drugs.

A National Guard cargo plane flew three hours from the Antarctic coast Friday (U.S. time) and landed in the minus-58-degree weather at the South Pole, where it picked up Nielsen and dropped off a replacement doctor before returning to the coast.

Nielsen is expected to be taken to New Zealand and then the United States for treatment. Her parents said she is weak and worried, and embarrassed by the loss of her hair.

Back among the rolling hills where Nielsen grew up, old school chums and family were rooting for her.

Stranded doctor

``Have a safe return Dr. Jerri Nielsen,'' read the sign outside West Branch High School, where she graduated in 1970.

``She was a nice, happy-go-lucky girl, a cheerleader and well-liked by everyone and pretty easy to get along with,'' said former high school classmate Mike Bardo.

Nielsen grew up in nearby Salem with her parents and two brothers. She read about birds, trees and science, rather than fairy tales, her mother said.

``We brought them up to be scientifically critical,'' said Mrs. Cahill, a retired psychologist. Her husband, Phil, is a retired building contractor.

Nielsen spent her senior year of high school as an exchange student in Sweden and learned the language. After high school she went to Ohio University and the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo, graduating in 1977.

For 12 years, she worked as a family practitioner in Toledo with her husband, Dr. Jay Nielsen, and they had three children, who are now teen-agers. The couple eventually divorced, and he said he got custody of the children.

Last year, she went to work in a hospital emergency room in Youngstown. Soon after, she seized the opportunity to go to the South Pole.

Before she noticed the lump, Nielsen would regale her parents with letters about her friendships at the research station and the need to do just about everything — even performing emergency dental work.

``She called herself Doc Holliday,'' Mrs. Cahill said. ``She felt like she was out on the prairie.''

Nielsen was looking forward to joining her new South Pole friends on a trip through Southeast Asia after her one-year polar assignment was up. Then she planned to hopscotch around the world, replacing sick or vacationing doctors.

Back home, many people admire Nielsen's ability to endure the remoteness of Antarctica while treating herself for her illness.

``She was always determined to do anything she set her mind to do,'' said Patty Brogan, a high school classmate.

Nielsen's ex-husband has a more critical view. Jay Nielsen accused her of cutting off contact with their three children, ages 14, 16 and 18. ``She doesn't look like a hero to them,'' he said.

Mrs. Cahill would not discuss her daughter's marriage or divorce.

Mrs. Cahill is confident her daughter will endure her ordeal. ``She's pretty tough,'' she said.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved.