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Thursday, 18 July, 2002, 08:14 GMT 09:14 UK
South Pole surgery link-up
Amundsen-Scott Pole Station
The polar station has no surgical facilities
A meteorologist spending the winter in Antarctica underwent knee surgery guided by doctors thousands of miles away in the US.

Telemedicine technology meant that doctors from Boston, Massachusetts were able to provide expert help to a physician who carried out the operation at the remote Amundsen-Scott Pole Station.


I'm grateful that the skills of all concerned could be combined so effectively with 21st century technology to meet this challenge

Karl Erb
The meteorologist, Dar Gibson required surgery to stitch up a tendon in his left knee that was damaged in a fall.

There was no way he could leave the station because the extreme cold and darkness prevented aircraft landings.

The two hour operation was carried out by South Pole physician Dr Timothy Pollard with the help of orthopaedic surgeon Bertram Zarins and anaesthesiologist Vicki Modest, via a telemedicine link-up to Massachusetts General Hospital.

The US Antarctic Program has used two-way voice and video links between the US and Antarctica to assist in medical procedures before.

But this is the first time in the program's nearly 50-year history that telemedicine has been used for surgery.

No facilities

There are three US-operated, year-round stations in Antarctica. Each is staffed by doctors, but the medical facilities are not designed for surgery.

A panel of physicians in the US explored a variety of options for treating the injury using digital x-rays sent via the telemedicine link and a live video transmission of a knee examination.

It was agreed that surgery represented the best way to restore maximum mobility to the damaged knee.

Karl Erb, of the US National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs, said: "The health and safety of our people comes first and I'm grateful that the skills of all concerned could be combined so effectively with 21st century technology to meet this challenge.

"Our thoughts are with the patient. We wish him a speedy and complete recovery."

Mr Gibson is now recovering and has begun physical therapy.

The Amundsen-Scott station is one of the best astrophysical observatories in the world.

It also has some of the world's cleanest air, making it a natural laboratory for studying environmental chemistry.

Winter in Antarctica lasts from February to November.

See also:

01 Sep 01 | Health
06 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
29 Jun 98 | Health
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