Local News

South Pole Woman's Knee Injury Puzzles Duke Doctors

Posted January 24, 2003

— The WRAL Health Team first introduced D.J. Williams in October 2002.

Williams was stranded in the South Pole with a serious knee injury, but now the scientist is back in Durham.

Doctors at Duke Medical Center tried everything to help Williams, but things did not go as planned.

Williams was one of 51 "Polies" who opted to spend the winter in the South Pole. She said she was lured by the challenges of a beautiful, but brutal winter.

During her stay in the South Pole, Williams said she served as a scientist, a doctor's assistant and a firefighter. Then she became a patient.

Williams was responding to a fire call last March when she slipped and fell on the ice, injuring her knee.

"That little twist was just enough to do whatever damage this is," she said.

The South Pole doctors teamed up with Duke doctors to help treat Williams; however, they said she needed to get back for surgery in Durham as soon as possible.

"Planes can't fly if the temperature is less than 60 below," said Williams.

Seven months later, Williams finally made it back to Durham.

"You were real fortunate because after you got out, it was another week before another flight got out," said Williams.

Three months after her return, Williams' knee has not improved much.

Puzzled doctors said they cannot find any sign of injury.

"It was quite mysterious. It may have healed itself," said Williams. "They're trying to take into account things like high altitude, temperatures of 90 below, malnutrition."

She manages the pain with medication and therapy, but Williams said she still does some of her favorite things, like going out to eat at Bullock's BBQ.

She also said the ordeal has helped her find her calling.

"The world could use one more good doctor. I think that could be me," said Williams. "I spent seven months in darkness at the South Pole with an injury. I don't know what could possibly challenge me more."

Williams is taking classes at the University of North Carolina and hopes to start medical school. She said she might consider going back to the South Pole as a doctor one day.

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