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UofA Doctor Leads Virtual Medical Team for Amazon Swimmer
Jan. 3, 2007

Physicians at The University of Arizona are leading a virtual medical team to assist Martin Strel, a Guinness record marathon swimmer, as he swims the Amazon River from Atalaya, Peru, to the Atlantic Ocean at Belém, Brazil. On Feb. 1, Strel will take his first stroke toward his goal of swimming 3,375 miles (5,430 km) in 70 days.

Trauma surgeon Rifat Latifi, MD, UA professor of surgery and associate director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program, was asked to serve as medical director for the Amazon Virtual Medical Team for the Amazon Swim Project. He has assembled a team consisting of physicians from Arizona, Virginia, California, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Slovenia and Brazil. Team members also from the UA are Joseph Mills, MD, professor and chief of vascular surgery, and Eskild A. Peterson, MD, professor and chief of infectious diseases.

For the majority of the swim, Dr. Latifi will be in Arizona monitoring Strel through the telemedicine program and consulting with his virtual team of medical specialists. He will periodically make house calls on board Strel’s boat, working closely with the team physician, Mateja deLeonni Stanonik, MD, PhD, from the University of Tennessee.

“This is the first time that telemedicine technology will be used to help in this type of mission,” Dr. Latifi says. “The use of telemedicine will allow the medical team to include specialists and experts from all over the world.”

The Amazon Swim Project will take Strel through some of the most dangerous, unknown regions of the Amazon, says Dr. Latifi. Using telemedicine technology, the medical team will provide health care services for Strel and his support team of more than 20 individuals 24/7 for the duration of the swim.

“The team will be responsible for the treatment of any injuries or disease that may occur during the swim,” Dr. Latifi says.

Strel and Dr. Latifi hope the project will be the catalyst for specific collaborative endeavors in the Amazon region and in the Andes that include telehealth initiatives, such as floating clinics and remote hospitals, as well as programs to enhance the emergency medical services and training programs in the remote areas of the South American region.

Strel swam the length of the Danube River in 2000, the Mississippi in 2002 and the Yangtze River in China in 2004. Strel has dedicated this swim to the preservation of the rainforest, to raising awareness for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders, and to promoting telemedicine as a valuable tool in bringing modern medicine to remote areas.