Special Report: Volunteer Physicians Tend to U.S. Olympians

MedPage Today—July 25, 2008

As Olympic competition gets underway in Beijing, 20 chosen volunteer physicians are keeping a watchful eye on the nearly 600 athletes in the delegation representing the United States. The doctors are selected by the U.S. Olympic Committee on the basis of how they interact with the athletes and on their sports medicine expertise.

However, occasionally the medical issues that these physicians encounter in their athletes are well outside the realm of sports medicine. Scott Rodeo, M.D., of Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, knows that all too well. He is heading up medical care for U.S.A. Swimming, which he’s been a part of since 1999.

“I was a swimmer myself for a long time and I got a lot out of the sport, so it’s nice to kind of give back,” Rodeo said. “It’s a real honor to take care of athletes at this level.”

This will be Rodeo’s second Olympics: he served in 2004 in Athens. In those games, he had to carefully monitor swimmer Dana Vollmer’s arrhythmia and carry an automated external defibrillator everywhere she went.

This time around, in addition to his normal duties, Rodeo will be keeping an eye on swimmer Eric Shanteau to make sure his recently diagnosed testicular cancer doesn’t spread.

Rodeo, in consultation with the swimmer’s oncologist and his coach, will monitor the cancer with regular CT scans and blood tests.

“It can be a bit of a juggle wearing different hats,” he said.

Another one of the hats that Rodeo has found himself wearing at the Olympics is a monitor of athlete substance intake — namely, making sure that everything each athlete takes is allowed by Olympic rules.

“The problem with supplements is, because the level of FDA regulation is relatively lax, what’s on the label is not always what’s inside the bottle,” he explained.

Although an athlete may not intentionally consume an illegal substance, cross contamination as the supplement is being packaged could result in a doping charge.

“It’s the rule of strict accountability, which means if it’s in your system, you’re guilty. It doesn’t matter how it got there,” he said. Rodeo adds that the team physicians play a major role in educating athletes about which substances might end up suspending them.

Read U.S. Olympic Team Physician Scott Rodeo's blog from Beijing at http://olympicsmd.blogspot.com/.

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