Dr. Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald, named the Irish-American of the Year by Irish America magazine in 2001, a heroic woman who diagnosed and treated her own breast cancer before a dramatic rescue from the South Pole, has died, her husband said today. She was 57.
Her husband, Thomas FitzGerald, said she died Tuesday at their home in Southwick, Mass. Her cancer had been in remission until it returned in August 2005, he said.
She was the only doctor at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in winter 1999 when she discovered a lump in her breast.
Extreme cold didn't permit a rescue, so with guidance from U.S. based doctors via the Internet, she performed a biopsy on herself with the help of staff.
She treated herself with anti-cancer drugs delivered during a mid-July airdrop by a U.S. Air Force plane in blackout, freezing conditions, until she could be rescued by the Air National Guard in October.
She documented her ordeal in the best-selling book "Ice Bound: A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole." It was made into a TV movie.
She spent the last decade speaking around the world about the cancer and how it changed her life, and also worked as roving ER doctor in hospitals around the Northeast.
Born Jerri Lynn Cahill, her people originated in Galway and Mayo, then went to Dublin for a while before heading to America at the end of the 19th century.
Proud of her Irish Roots, one of Nielsen’s most prized possessions during her time at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station was her Celtic Harp.
"She fought bravely, she was able to make the best of what life and circumstance gave her, and she had the most resilience I have ever seen in anyone," said her husband. "She fought hard and she fought valiantly."
The couple would have celebrated their third anniversary next week. In addition to her husband, the Ohio native is survived by her parents, two brothers and three children.