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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 October 2005, 23:06 GMT 00:06 UK
Crossing the jungle in a wheelchair
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Beyond Boundaries - a group of 11 disabled participants' epic trek across Nicaragua

Imagine being abandoned in a remote South American jungle and having to fight your way across 220 miles of rough terrain.

Now imagine the added difficulty of completing that journey if you are seriously physically disabled.

That is the challenge the BBC set 11 intrepid explorers in a new four-part series 'Beyond Boundaries'.

In just 28 days the 11, whose disabilities include being wheelchair bound, using prosthetic limbs, being deaf and being blind, try to cross Nicaragua from the Atlantic to Pacific coast.

Dilemmas

Quickly the group found they faced a number of unique problems such as how to cut through dense undergrowth in a wheelchair; navigating a rainforest while blind and how to tell a deaf man there is a crocodile behind him.

Executive producer Robert McIver said the aim of the programme, made by Diverse TV, was to show just what disabled people can do, rather than focus on their limitations.

It's meant to inspire everyone through their courage
Robert McIver, executive producer

"Our objective was to make an inspirational series, rather than one that characterises disabled people.

"It's meant to inspire everyone through their courage."

Team doctor Dr Prabodh 'Mukul' Argarwal, who has been the medic on a number of expeditions, said the trip had provided a number of unique medical challenges even before taking the disabilities of the participants into consideration.

Each participant and the 20 crew had to be assessed before they set off into the jungle, and jabs and malaria tablets organised.

Evacuation

Because the terrain was so remote, Dr Mukul had to have evacuation plans for each step of the journey.

"Nicaragua is amazingly isolated and the only decent medical facilities are in the capital.

"Despite the country only being the size of Wales, there is not a single road that goes coast to coast. So it was very important to me to have a casualty evacuation plan in hand.

"We spent four or five days in dense jungle, and the only way to get out of there was to put someone on horseback and go 16 hours to the river, and then get a canoe and then fly to the city.

Dr Prabodh 'Mukul' Argarwal
You realise watching it what an amazing journey it really was - the trip of a lifetime, professionally and personally. It is ground-breaking
Dr Prabodh 'Mukul' Argarwal

"Then I had to think, as the only team doctor, whether I should go back with the person, if they were sick or whether I should stay with the others who might need help."

He said that, because of the disabilities of the people involved, the plans also had to include anticipating certain health problems they would face in such a harsh terrain.

"It was expected that the walking amputees would have problems with their limbs and get sores.

"We were in very rough country so we had to face the fact that those in wheelchairs might have problems from propelling them and that they might have skin problems and bladder problems.

"We also had to face that somebody could have a major incident or an infection of some sort.

"People were using muscles and joints that they would not normally use to such an extent, and we had to anticipate problems, also most of them were expedition novices."

Dr Mukul, who has viewed the tapes of the show, is confident it will make 'compulsive viewing'.

"You realise watching it what an amazing journey it really was - the trip of a lifetime, professionally and personally. It is ground-breaking."

I was completely in awe of nature, sleeping in hammocks with the air blowing around me
Amar Latif

Amar Latif, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa aged just four, and who is now registered blind, agreed.

"One of the magical moments was when we first arrived in the jungle.

"It was about 5pm and it suddenly got dark and then for the first time we could hear all around us these insects and birds, the whole jungle came to life.

"I was completely in awe of nature, sleeping in hammocks with the air blowing around me."

But Amar said that, although his disability had not impeded him in the daily challenges, he had faced his own personal challenge each time the team made a new camp.

"It was just learning where everything was, having to ask people whether I was heading in the right direction for the toilets.

I hope it will come across that we are people with personalities. We are not just people with no feet
Jane Atkinson
participant

"I needed a quick orientation every day."

Participant Jane Atkinson, who had both her feet and ankles amputated as a baby after being born with congenital abnormalities, said she and the others had all faced their own challenges en route.

"I found riding for 11 hours particularly tough and I had 'Delhi belly' and I just felt wretched, but the views were absolutely awesome.

"We did not get to see any of the towns, but each day we saw different terrains."

Jane, a senior house officer at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh, said she hoped that as well as experiencing the physical challenges with them, viewers would also change their perceptions of the disabled.

"I hope it will come across that we are people with personalities. We are not just people with no feet.

"I hope the domestic side will come across, not just 'look at those clever disabled people going up hills', but that amputees can be bitches and they can be nasty, but they can also be nice."

Not all 11 participants finish the challenge and the producers promise a number of surprises en route.

Beyond Boundaries will be shown on BBC Two on Tuesday October 11 at 9.00BST.




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