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South Pole worker: Rescue a real team effort

"The most challenging part for me, really, was to do my job," McCue said.

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CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- Research station worker Barry McCue was rescued from the South Pole a little over 10 days ago. He was trapped at the bottom of the world fighting bouts of excruciating pain from a medical condition that can be fatal. He joined CNN's Paula Zahn in an exclusive interview to talk about his ordeal and the daring rescue to save his life.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Barry, welcome. How you feeling, first off?

BARRY MCCUE, RESCUED FROM SOUTH POLE: Well, I'm feeling real good. I saw my doctor today and I'm exactly where I should be at this point after my surgery.

ZAHN: Now, take us back to the initial attacks that you had and what point you realized that you had to get airlifted out of the pole to stay alive?

MCCUE: Well, the first attack was on August 25. It just came out of the blue. My stomach hurt just a lot.

It took me a while to realize I was the trouble. I finally decided I had to go see the doctor. When I went in there, here is this pale white guy week in his knees, took me and found out exactly what was wrong. It took him a couple hours. And he determined it was my gallbladder that was inflamed. And it was gangrenous at the time.

ZAHN: And so you basically were told you had to get out of there if you were going to stay alive?

MCCUE: Well, at that point, it was stable and it was OK. I had another attack a week later. And a couple days after that, my kidney took a hit from the infection. And, at that point, there was a huge conference that went on. They have this telemedicine system. And they broadcast it. They had surgeons in Galveston and Boston and Denver all looking at my ultrasound online, real-time. They determined that I had a real serious gallbladder problem and that, if it got any worse, it would be fatal.

So they started putting together a plan to extract me. Now, this is in the middle of the winter. There's no sun. It's minus-90 degrees. The wind are blowing. We've got blizzards on the coast. And so they had to plan this in a very careful and controlled manner, so that nobody else got hurt.

ZAHN: And how acutely aware you were aware of this very small window of opportunity your rescuers had?

MCCUE: I was actually very aware of it.

Understanding the weather, understanding the impact of the cold becomes a part of your daily life when you're at the South Pole. It's a real part of your environment. It's a little different.

ZAHN: Yes.

At the same time that you're worried about whether this rescue mission is going to work or not, you had to be concerned about the welfare of your children back home. You had lost your wife not long before that from a terrible, terrible tragedy.

MCCUE: An automobile accident, yes.

ZAHN: What did your kids know about your condition?

MCCUE: Actually, they knew quite a bit. The doctors were -- and, again, the ones in the states, the ones at the pole -- were all communicating. The RPSC, the Raytheon physician was in constant communication with my daughters, updating them, both to the status of the medevac and to my status. She probably knew more about my status and the medevac than I did, being there at the Pole, they were keeping so well informed,

ZAHN: And, Barry, when you look back at the miracle of your rescue itself, what was the most challenging part?

MCCUE: The most challenging part for me, really, was to do my job, which was to stay healthy, stay vertical and walking around, to not put pressure on all these other people, these hundreds of other people, the English at their research station in Rothera, who had to get their runway done in a blizzard, the South Pole, and the McMurdo workers who had to go out in minus-90 degrees and work outside putting together the systems necessary for the runway, those Canadian pilots coming down.

So the hardest part was me staying calm, a little fatalistic, understanding the best people in the world were doing the best they could do in the harshest environment in the world to get me out. There was a lot of heroes that did a lot of work to get me out of there.


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