Laura Irwin and Reza Noori

Adventurers/doctors Laura Irwin and Reza Noori are embarking on a year long unaided cycle journey to help support safer surgery in low resource countries. They’re riding the length of the Andes, the longest mountain range in the world. As far as fundraising challenges go, this one sets the bar high!

We’ll be keeping in touch with Laura and Reza here and via their blog, as the epic journey gets underway. From a pre-departure interview to the inside track with their video blogs – keep any eye on this page for news as adventure and safer surgery collide…(safely.)

What motivated you to support Lifebox?

We are both anaesthetic trainees and first learned of Lifebox® whilst on a study course at the Mersey School of Anaesthesia (MSA), which has donated over £19,000 to Lifebox so far. I was immediately intrigued and delighted to find an organisation providing a simple, sustainable and pragmatic intervention that truly saves lives.

We are fortunate that in our daily practice the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist is second nature and pulse oximetry is part of our standard monitoring equipment. From firsthand experience, we recognise the value of pulse oximeters. They allow timely recognition and management of life-threatening problems. We can only admire anaesthesia providers in low-resource countries who rely on more basic manual equipment and primarily their clinical acumen. Unfortunately, such rudimentary methods can equate to delayed management and poorer patient outcomes. We want to generate money for Lifebox to provide pulse oximeters to those in need, to empower anaesthesia providers. We stand behind Lifebox and their values. Safe operating conditions should apply worldwide to stop preventable deaths occurring.

You’re going on a year-long unaided bicycle journey – why did you decide to take on this challenge?

We wanted to do something that would take us far outside our comfort zone, something that would challenge us on different levels. We are both very active individuals who have always been intrigued by different cultures and we greatly appreciate and respect our natural environment, so we wanted to choose a challenge that would bring us closer with nature whilst testing our physical and psychological limits. We wanted to be able to experience new cultures and to learn a new language. Cycling across a continent involves being in contact with the elements for the vast majority of the time, overcoming unforeseen obstacles, as well as submerging oneself into new and different cultures. It seemed a good choice!

We also wanted to create an opportunity to give something back to our professional specialty, anaesthesia, and to help improve the working standards of colleagues in low/middle income countries. We felt that by raising money for Lifebox and being involved with their projects, we could help make a small contribution to saving lives.

How much training is this going to involve?

Cycling in South America will be our full-time job and so a lot of our physical and psychological adaptation will occur during the first few weeks of the journey. We can expect to be in the saddle for eight hours per day, covering 80-100km with one or two rest days per week. In addition, we will be spending a month on foot climbing Mount Aconcagua, carrying 20kg packs day after day all the way up to 6962m in elevation.

By way of physical preparation, we sought the help of Daniel Jackson, our personal trainer. He has been a great motivator, constantly challenging us and pushing our strength and physical conditioning to a new level. We aim for six to nine indoor session per week working on strength endurance, flexibility and cardiovascular conditioning with our beloved ‘oxygen debt sessions’. We are blessed in Scotland with the mountains at our doorstep and set out to hike Munro’s on our days off.

We have recently returned from a Swiss bicycle tour where we tested out our new gear and bikes, allowing time for fine-tuning and equipment modification. Despite our best efforts, we know this is going to be a true test of our physical and mental strength: the strong winds, steep climbs, rough gravel roads and the altitude. Nonetheless, we are excited to get started. “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough.”

What does safer surgery mean to you?

We think that safer surgery means avoiding preventable deaths and reducing morbidity associated with surgery. It is the intricate interaction between appropriate clinical skills, adequate medical resources as well as human factors, and certainly safer surgery is difficult to attain in the absence of any one of these components. It’s about implementing systems to recognise this fact, systems that protect patients such as the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist. In high resource countries we have the opportunity to develop all these aspects throughout our continued training and so provide ‘safer surgery’ to our patients. We hope to be a part of a project that can extend this worldwide.

What is your experience in low-resource settings?

A few years ago, I was involved with a project that raised money for a Kenyan NGO based in Kisumu. Its primary aim was around providing healthcare to those living in rural areas of western Kenya, as well as smaller projects including setting up orphan feeding centers and improving sanitation. It was apparent that sustainability was a key factor in the success of these projects and that providing education and training were as, if not more, important than providing buildings and equipment.

The fact that Lifebox has the ability to provide both, namely education and equipment, makes it an extremely powerful organisation in the fight for health equality.