The Effort Is Worth It

for the week of May 7, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

There seems to be no limit to the planning, expense, and risk we'll take to save someone in jeopardy unless that person is too close to home.

You've surely followed the dramatic story of the rescue plane that flew out of the South Pole on April 26 with an ailing physician aboard. Dr. Ronald S. Shemenski, 59, had been diagnosed with gall bladder problems and pancreatitis. The situation was deemed to be life-threatening, so a dangerous program to bring him back for specialized medical care was put in motion. Weather conditions made this project even more dangerous than a similar one done in October 1999. Dr. Jerri Nelson was flown out of the same 50-person research station in Antarctica after she discovered a breast tumor that was diagnosed as cancerous.

The rescue effort was accomplished with an eight-seat Twin Otter plane with skis for landing gear. The plane landed on a runway of solid ice that had been lit up by the glow of debris set on fire in 55-gallon fuel drums.

Two pilots, an engineer, and a replacement physician braved snow, darkness, and temperatures that plunged to 68 degrees below zero. The sun had set on their remote destination in March and will not be visible again until October. Once they had arrived at the site, the plane's crew had to keep heaters blowing on their plane's engines to keep the oil and fuel from freezing.

When something this spectacular and hazardous is going on, news media focus on it intensely. People follow the adventure, hope for the best, and pray for the daring souls involved. When it ends well, there is a collective sigh of relief. My hat is certainly off to everyone involved. I hope Dr. Shemenski recovers soon from his originally diagnosed illness and a heart problem found after his return.

It may be easier to become engrossed with stories like this one than to go on rescue missions of our own. Know anybody in a nursing home who has no family to visit? Know a child who needs a mentor? There are lots of both.

Maybe somebody in your workplace is going through a divorce or grieving a loss. She could be teetering on the edge of depression or suicide. Perhaps a family in your church is in dire straits because of job loss or illness. They need somebody to care about them. The pain could even be that of a family member.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for heroic rescues in remote places. But some of the greatest needs may be at arm's length. Those people are worth it too.

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