Local News

Duke Doctors Help Injured Woman In South Pole

Posted October 21, 2002

— A woman injured in the South Pole is getting help from doctors at

Duke University Medical Center


Deborah "D.J." Williams, daughter of Durham resident Laura Kujawski, has a serious knee injury at the South Pole and, according to doctors, needs immediate help.

Kujawski said she checks her e-mail often, hoping for messages from her daughter. Williams is one of 51 Americans wintering at the South Pole.

"This just sounded like a great adventure for her," Kujawski said.

Williams said she went to the South Pole for a change in "scenery." As a physicist, she was doing research and collecting data, and even served as a firefighter and a surgeon's assistant.

However, in March 2002, Williams fell on the ice during a fire drill and tore cartilage in her knee. The only nearby doctor, with little medicine, has been treating her since the accident.

"I understand now that she's on crutches all the time," said Kujawski.

Kujarski decided to call the

Duke Sports Medicine Center

to see if doctors could help.

"When I heard the message I actually didn't believe it when I first got it," said Dr. Larry Higgins, an orthopedic surgeon at Duke.

Higgins helped set up a videoconference with the South Pole to examine Williams' injury.

"This was happening -- an examination taking place 9,000 miles away," Kujawski said.

"What she's done is created a tear all the way around the circle -- this piece of cartilage," Higgins said.

Higgins is concerned about possible nerve and ligament damage and said Williams needs surgery immediately. But the plane needs to be able to land at the South Pole first.

The first flight into the South Pole is scheduled to arrive Wednesday, Oct. 23. However, transport depends on the weather.

The winds have to die down enough to dig out a landing strip for the plane and it also must be warmer than minus-60 degrees.

The trip home will include stops in Antarctica, New Zealand, Los Angeles, and finally to Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

"She's going to come here within 24 hours of landing to get an MRI," Higgins said.

According to Higgins, surgery will follow a few days later. Williams plans to stay with her mother for a while after surgery.

"As a proud mom, I guess I am mostly impressed with my daughter and what she has done under difficult circumstances, that she's a gutsy kid and I'm just really proud of her," Kujawski said.

Doctors and family hope for an airlift on Oct. 23, but realistically, they said they do not expect the plane to be able to reach the South Pole for one or two weeks.


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