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Cardiologist will monitor extreme swimmer on 5,500-mile journey across Pacific Ocean

by Lauren Dubinsky, Senior Reporter | August 18, 2015
Cardiology Health IT Medical Devices Risk Management
Dr. Benjamin Levine (right)
and Ben Lecomte (left)
Swimmer Ben Lecomte was repeatedly stung by jellyfish and followed by a shark for five days on his 3,395-mile swim across the Atlantic Ocean in 1998. He’s gearing up to face another amazing feat, but this time it’s a 5,500-mile swim across the Pacific Ocean.

Dr. Benjamin Levine of the University of Texas Southwestern is going to use a NASA-tested technology called remote guidance echocardiography to monitor changes in Lecomte’s heart during his swim. The technology was previously used for a seven-year study of 13 astronauts’ hearts, who were living on the International Space Station.

“This is a continuation of our work and our interest in the effects of extreme conditions on the human body,” Levine said in a statement.
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Whether extreme athletic performance has a damaging effect on the heart is a topic of much controversy in the cardiology field. Levine is expecting that Lecomte’s swim will have no negative effects on his heart.

Echocardiography uses high-pitched sound waves that bounce off the heart. The echoes of the ultrasonic waves are picked up by the machine and converted into a video image of the beating heart.

Traditionally, echocardiograms have been performed by sonographers, but the remote guidance echocardiograph technology enables a sonographer to guide a modestly trained individual through the process in remote locations such as the International Space Station and the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Levine has already started the research on Lecomte by taking baseline echoes of his heart to be used during and after his swim. Levine reported that he was able to obtain “some beautiful” 2-D and 3-D images of Lecomte's heart.

Lecomte was the first person to swim across the Atlantic Ocean and he is now looking to also become the first person to swim across the Pacific Ocean. His goal is to bring attention to environmental issues.

“I’ve noticed changes in the water over my lifetime, more plastic, less and less sea life,” Lecomte, said in a statement. “It is my duty as a father to try to do anything and everything I can to reduce the liability on the environment that I am going to pass on to my children.”

He intends to swim 5,500 miles from Tokyo to San Francisco over the course of 180 days accompanied by a boat. He spent the last two years training and preparing for his journey by studying the flow patterns of the ocean currents.

He will swim at a speed of 2 to 2.5 knots in a wet suit and flippers and intends to swim about eight hours a day using GPS technology to mark his starting and ending points. He will have to battle the 20-foot-high waves and dangerous marine life.

He is even looking forward to encountering sharks. He believes that the ocean is their place and it will be a great opportunity to tell the story about what we have done to them, since only 10 percent of the shark population now remains.

Lecomte is determined to not live a routine life. “You have people who climb mountains. You have people who sail around the world. This is my passion,” he said.

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