UT remembers life, legacy of famous doctor

Jerri Nielsen was stranded for nearly 9 months on the South Pole before being rescued.

The doctor who made international headlines ten years ago, after diagnosing and treating her own cancer while stranded at the South Pole, has lost her battle with the disease.

Dr. Jerri Nielsen, a 1977 graduate of the Medical College of Ohio (now University of Toledo Medical Center), died Tuesday at the age of 57.

In the dead of a South Pole winter, Nielsen discovered a lump on her breast. With the help of other stateside doctors and the help of workers at the station, she was able to conduct her own biopsy and diagnose herself as having breast cancer. However, because of the brutal, paralyzing weather, she couldn't leave and was trapped on the South Pole.

Eventually, after getting an airdrop of medicine, she was able to administer her own chemotherapy. She was finally rescued in October of 1999 by an Air Force transport plane that braved icy and harsh conditions to save her life.

She came back to Toledo nine years later, in Oct. 2008, to tell future doctors at UTMC how the experience changed her life. "I look at my life in a different way now, and I think that's what we all do throughout life"

TODAY SHOW: Dr. Jerri Nielsen Fitzgerald

Dr. Jeffrey Gold, Dean of UT's School of Medicine, says Jerri was an inspiration to those who knew her, "She was a strong person, very bright, intelligent, articulate, really understood and was very likeable and approachable. You could strike up a conversation with her about anything." He says she will be remembered to many, including those who only knew her through her dramatic story of survival.

The University of Toledo has set up a scholarship fund in her name. The Jerri Nielsen, M.D. Scholarship Award will be awarded to those students from rural areas of Ohio who want to stay in the state to practice medicine in rural areas.

Colleagues and friends will remember Dr. Nielsen's legacy Wednesday night in Toledo.

-- NBC24 reporter Lou Hebert contributed to this report.