Suffolk nurse may have saved explorer

A SUFFOLK nurse may have saved an Arctic explorer's life after she spotted he had symptoms of a deadly flesh-eating bug – just hours before he set off on an epic trek.

A SUFFOLK nurse may have saved an Arctic explorer's life after she spotted he had symptoms of a deadly flesh-eating bug – just hours before he set off on an epic trek.

Fizzy Lillingston, who lives in Eye, raised the alarm after examining a blister on amateur explorer Jim McNeill's leg at their base camp at Resolute in the Canadian Artic.

Mr McNeill, who was subsequently diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, was bidding to become the first man to walk unaided to all four North Poles – a 685-mile adventure.

The 42-year-old, a fireman with the Royal Household at Windsor Castle, said he was lucky to be alive and pledged to try and take on the challenge, which is raising money for the Cancer Research Fund, later this year.

"This trip has been two years in planning and I am devastated by what has occurred, but you cannot plan for freak illnesses like this," said the married father-of-three, from Sunninghill, Berkshire.

"I am fortunate in many respects because if I had started out two weeks ago, then encountered this problem, I would have faced being picked up off the sea ice - possibly in an emergency airlift which would have taken up to a week to organise.

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"At best, I might have lost my leg.'

Mr McNeill said he developed a blister on his leg at their base camp and within hours his condition had detoriated, leaving Mrs Lillingston - part of his nine-strong support team - to raise the alarm.

He was rushed to a nearby medical centre where doctors gave him intravenous antibiotics and warned him to rest.

Necrotizing fasciitis, an infection which "eats away' at the flesh, leaves the sufferer with flu-like symptoms and can quickly prove fatal if left untreated.

The explorer had hoped to complete the first part of the trip, to the Arctic Pole, in some 70 days but will now have to wait until December as melting ice would make the route too risky.

He will then return later in 2004 to attempt the 1,000-mile trek to the Magnetic, Geomagnetic and Geographic North Poles.

He said: "I won't be fit to set out for at least another 10 days and the increasing likelihood of melting ice further along the line would put me in serious danger of being stranded with no hope of rescue.'

Mr McNeill said he would stay in Resolute for two months training members of his Ice Warrior project, which promotes science in schools and tourism to extreme parts of the world.

"I will go on and enter the record books,' he pledged.

Mrs Lillingston said she had only read about the bug before but recognised it because Mr McNeill's leg had "swollen up like a balloon.'

She added: "The far north of Canada has experienced a number of similar cases recently and the mortality rate is 30%. Fortunately, Jim is making a steady recovery, but any attempt to rush the healing process could endanger his limb.'

Cancer Research UK's executive director of communications, Susan Osborne, said: "Jim's disappointment is shared by everyone at Cancer Research UK. However, his awe-inspiring project has always been an ongoing one and we are confident that this setback is only a temporary one.'

Mr McNeill said his motivation for the record breaking attempt was both the personal challenge and the challenge of helping those trying to conquer cancer, including family members and his personal trainer, who was diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer.

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