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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “A man, a dream and the Amazon River”

    Champion swimmer Martin Strel swims the Mississippi River in 2002. UA doctors will join a team remotely monitoring Strels upcoming swim down the Amazon River.
    Champion swimmer Martin Strel swims the Mississippi River in 2002. UA doctors will join a team remotely monitoring Strel’s upcoming swim down the Amazon River.

    One man is preparing to swim the length of the Amazon River in 70 consecutive days, facing poisonous animals, rough currents and unhygienic water with the help of cutting-edge technology that will connect him to a team of 15 physicians from around the world led by a UA doctor.

    Arizona is at the forefront of a new phenomenon known as telemedicine, which allows doctors to virtually monitor a person’s health from great distances.

    “”We have already served over 400,000 patients with telemedicine here in Arizona,”” said Dr. Ronald Weinstein, director of the Arizona Telemedicine Program and head of the UA Pathology Department. “”We have one of the largest telemedicine programs in the nation.””

    For champion swimmer Martin Strel, who will begin the 3,375-mile Amazon swim Feb. 1, doctors will use machines including the Electrocardiogram, or EKG, in conjunction with live film to monitor Strel’s health as he swims.

    “”We really hope that we don’t have to help him,”” said Dr. Rifat Latifi, a professor of clinical surgery who will lead the team of physicians monitoring the Amazon swim.

    A team of medical specialists from around the world, each with his or her own area of expertise, will take turns staying on one of a few boats traveling alongside Strel as he swims more than 12 hours each day, Latifi said.

    “”I will be going out there at least three times,”” Latifi said. “”We will each try to go for as long as we can.””

    The live film will be shot from one of the boats following Strel, and will later provide the basis for a movie titled “”Big River Man,”” a documentary of Strel and his accomplishments.

    For Slovenian native Strel, swimming great distances has never been a challenge.

    Since the year 2000, Strel has achieved five Guinness Book of World Record titles for swimming distances previously dubbed impossible, including the Danube, Yangtze and Mississippi rivers, the last of which spans a distance of about 2,360 miles.

    This time, however, he will brave the Amazon River alongside crocodiles, piranhas and anaconda snakes to send a message.

    “”The rainforest has been destroyed more and more in recent years,”” said Borut Strel, the swimmer’s son and president of Martin’s Club, a group supporting Martin Strel’s swim. “”(Martin) wants to dedicate this swim to preserve the mission of saving the rainforest and raise attention to that mission.””

    Additionally, Borut Strel said his father would like to raise awareness of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and promote telemedicine as a tool in bringing modern medicine to rural or impoverished areas.

    Weinstein said although telemedicine has never been used in a mission such as this, it is increasing in popularity in both rural and urban areas.

    “”Telemedicine adds to the quality of care and adds to access of care in a significant way,”” Weinstein said. “”It allows us to think of new ways to deliver health care.””

    Borut Strel said his father is “”getting more mentally prepared”” in the weeks leading up to the swim.

    During the 12 hours a day that he is swimming, Martin Strel will defecate in the river. He will return to the boat to eat three hot meals throughout the day and sleep in the evening, Borut Strel said.

    While there are many possible health risks, Borut Strel said the team is most concerned with infections that can arise from swimming in the river water.

    “”This is the longest swim in history,”” Borut Strel said. “”We have been down there, done research and made connections with the indigenous people, but we never know if he can do it.””

    Even if doctors monitoring Strel’s health feel that he is in danger, Latifi said they will not interfere.

    “”No one has ever done anything like this before, and there certainly is danger,”” said Latifi. “”But ultimately, the decision to swim is his.””

    As Martin Strel makes his way from Atalaya, Peru, to Belem, Brazil, parts of his journey will be broadcast live on his Web site, www.amazonswim.com.

    “”In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that changed our world,”” Strel wrote on his Web site. “”I too have a dream. … My dream is to swim the Amazon to prove to the world that nothing ð- nothing, is impossible.””

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