Martin Strel is a little crazy, and doctors from around the world are going to try to help him.
No, they aren't seeking to deter him from his insane goal of swimming the length of the Amazon River and its estimated 4,000 miles of anaconda-, piranha- and crocodile-infested waters. Instead they will actually provide medical assistance to help the legendary marathon swimmer from Slovenia, who swam the length of the Danube, Mississippi and Yangtze rivers in the past six years.
Strel, Guinness World Record-holder for uninterrupted and distance swimming, has a motto: "I swim for peace, friendship and clean water."
He is dedicating the Feb. 1-April 11 Amazon swim to "the preservation of the rain forest, 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."
Wow, to reach those goals you need a team, and Strel will have one.
Trauma surgeon Rifat Latifi, a professor at the University of Arizona medical school in Tucson and associate director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program, will lead the Amazon Virtual Medical Team for the Amazon Swim Project. Other team members are specialists in many fields, including, not too surprisingly, infectious diseases.
For the majority of the swim, Latifi will be in Arizona monitoring Strel, 52, through the telemedicine program and consulting with his virtual team of medical specialists. He will make house calls periodically aboard Strel's boat, working closely with Mateja de Leonni Stanonik, a doctor from the University of Tennessee, who will be among the 20-person support crew on the boat accompanying Strel.
"This is the first time that telemedicine technology will be used to help in this type of mission," Latifi says.
In fact, the effort is viewed by Strel and Latifi as a high-profile catalyst for telehealth initiatives such as floating clinics and remote hospitals served by medical professionals from around the world -- virtually, of course.
For those who want to follow Strel's adventure, or provide mental health counseling to the poor man, find out more at amazon.swim.com, or wait for the documentary movie planned by Self Pictures, whose team will be aboard the boat.
This article initially appeared in the Jan. 15 edition of Modern Healthcare magazine.
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