University of Arizona doctor leads virtual medical team for Amazon swimmer

Tucson 04 January 2007Physicians at the University of Arizona (UA) 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 Belem, Brazil. On February 1, Martin Strel will take his first stroke toward his goal of swimming 3375 miles or 5430 km in 70 days.

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Trauma surgeon Rifat Latifi, MD, UA professor of surgery and associate director of the Arizona Telemedicine Programme, 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 Martin Strel through the telemedicine programme and consulting with his virtual team of medical specialists. He will make house calls periodically on board Martin 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 stated. "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 Martin Strel through some of the most dangerous, unknown regions of the Amazon, according to Dr. Latifi. Using telemedicine technology, the medical team will provide health care services for Martin Strel and his support team of more than 20 individuals round the clock 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 stated.

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

Martin Strel swam the length of the Danube River in 2000, the Mississippi in 2002 and the Yangtze River in China in 2004. Martin 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.

For more information on Dr. Latifi's work, you can read the VMW June 2005 interview by Bob Pyke Jr. Teletrauma... From myth to reality? An interview with Dr. Rifat Latifi, Associate Professor of Surgery and Trauma and Critical Care, University Medical Center, Tucson, Arizona.


Leslie Versweyveld

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