Barry McCue was recovering in Chicago Friday morning after a harrowing ordeal that began in August in the South Pole.
McCue, who worked for Raytheon Polar Services as environmental safety and health coordinator in Antarctica, was evacuated from the South Pole after doctors discovered a problem with his gall bladder that led to an infection in his pancreas and kidney.
In an interview with The Early Show, McCue tells co-anchor Rene Syler he started to feel discomfort after eating a lunch of fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
"Aug. 25 at 4 'o clock in the afternoon, my belly just went into great pain," McCue says, adding that he attributed it at first to indigestion.
"After an hour, I realized it was more than that. Stumbled into the bio med and saw the doctor and he went in the process of figuring out things were wrong and making me stable again."
McCue says the station's doctor diagnosed him as having gall bladder problems. He says the doctor called various doctors in Denver, Baltimore, Boston and Galveston, Texas, to confirm his condition.
Once stable, McCue says, he thought he could hold out until mid-November, the end of his assignment. But he had a second attack.
"Sept. 5, I had another attack. My pancreas started to act up and bad tremendous chemistries," he says. "They were thinking gallstones and then my kidneys started to act up and they thought we got to get him out."
McCue says at that point he wanted the doctor to take out his gall bladder. He says, "He said, 'No, it's a very complicated operation.' He's just by himself with a physician's assistant. He couldn't do it. It's just too complicated and too dangerous to do."
The only solution was to get him out of the South Pole, which McCue notes is not an easy thing to do. His health was not the only concern; safety precautions had to be taken for the rescue team as well.
He says first rescuers needed to make sure an evacuation was necessary.
"They had this very extensive telemedicine system," McCue says. "So online, real-time, we have the surgeons at University of Texas, we have surgeons and anesthesiologists at Boston and Denver doing real-time analysis, ultrasound, X-rays of me. Is this the right thing to do? They determined it was. And then keep me stable and then everybody starts doing their job to get me out in a calm manner."
He says the whole evacuation process started on Sept. 12 when planes left Canada. On Sept. 15, the station started preparing the runaway to accept planes.
McCue says, "One of the things that they did is they have this huge risk management system. Antarctic is a very dangerous place, blizzard conditions on the coast. It doesn't take a very big mistake to make a very big problem. They had to manage all of the activities at three major bases to get this done."
On Sept. 21, he got on a plane and flew to the British research station at Rothera to refuel, then to Chile's southernmost city, Punta Arenas, and from there to Houston where, on Sept. 25, doctors removed stones from his bile duct.
Now, he will rest at his daughter's house for a few weeks so can heal. He tells Syler, "I met with my surgeon here the other day and I'm exactly where I should be in healing."
McCue is the third person since 1999 to be evacuated from the South Pole research facility because of a medical condition. He says the frightening experience will not deter him from going back to the South Pole in 2005.