Amazon Swim (Martin Strel)
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Dr. Mateja de Leonni Stanonik, MD, PhD

Mateja de Leonni Stanonik, BA, BSc, MA, MD, PhD, is a neurologist (sub-specializing in vascular, stroke, interventional endovascular, and neuro-intensive care) as well as adjunct faculty in the Global Health at the George Washington University.

She left her home country of Slovenia at age 17 immigrating to the United States. Fascinated by the capabilities of the human brain, she was determined to explore cognitive and affective functions and to learn from American neuroscience experts. She aspired to become a neurologist, and during her PhD work at the U. of Tennessee became introduced to the Telemedicine Network. The Telemedicine Network provides primary care services support in the rural areas of East Tennessee, and this is where she first learned about the capabilities of advanced technologies in healthcare delivery. The following summary describes dr. de Leonni’s decade-long, abundant and eclectic work, outstanding leadership and championship at local, national or international level promoting and advocating for telemedicine/telehealth and e-health, their implementation and execution, telemedicine education and research, policy development and regulations as well as showcasing how advanced technologies and telemedicine can be used most successfully in rebuilding of the healthcare systems in the developing world in a culture-sensitive manner.

Telemedicine education and implementation

In 2007, Dr. de Leonni was invited to serve as the lead physician on the The Amazon Virtual Telemedicine Team accompanying the marathon swimmer, Martin Strel. Dr. de Leonni envisioned, designed, and led the Telemedicine Expedition to the Amazon Jungle when the Guinness world-record holder, Martin Strel, swam the entire Amazon River. She was the main physician on board managing the care of the swimmer as well as providing care with the help of telemedicine for hundreds of local inhabitants along the Amazon River as they traveled. Dr. de Leonni was also co-director of the The Amazon Virtual Telemedicine Team (AVTM). The AVMT demonstrated feasibility and humanization of the technology as well as strong virtual international collaboration in the remotest areas of the Amazon Jungle. It was the first time that telemedicine technology was utilized in a project of this magnitude and relevance. The Amazon Telemedicine Project instilled passion and belief that telemedicine can be used in remote areas with specific projects as well as applied to healthcare and healthcare systems in these remote areas.

As stated above dr. de Leonni’s career in telemedicine started during her formative years in training. As a clinician dr. de Leonni was the motivating force in establishing the TelePsychiatry network in Emergency Departments in Southwestern Virginia, as well as telemedicine, including Telestroke, services at the George Washington University. In 2010, Dr. de Leonni relinquished an active role in IVEH when the Slovenian Minister of Health asked her to become the Chief Executive of the National e-Health and Telemedicine Program of the Republic of Slovenia. She was appointed the Surgeon General of RS and tasked to lead the implementation of the national telemedicine projects. Her accomplishments in the last years include implementation of the national e-prescription, teleradiology, and e-referrals services while adding supplemental programs and telemedicine (clinical) services. Under her lead, Slovenia has also become the lead in the Patient Registry Action Group at the level of the European Union.


After the Amazon Telemedicine experience Dr. de Leonni joined the International Virtual e-Hospital Foundation (IVEH). IVEH is an NGO that trains and educates healthcare providers of developing countries in the use, adoption, practice, and implementation of telemedicine, e-health and electronic libraries in order to narrow the gap created by the digital divide. She was appointed to the Board of Directors and became the Vice President of IVEH. Under Dr. de Leonni’s guidance IVEH became committed to using advanced technologies and telemedicine to foster women’s empowerment and gender equality in the emerging democratic governance of developing countries. In the past few years, she helped IVEH to expand from one project in the Balkans to having the network of projects across in five continents, thus presenting telemedicine globally as a paradigm shift in medical and science diplomacy.


As the Consul General from the Republic of Slovenia to the United States, Dr. de Leonni Stanonik, began the EU & US Salon Lecture Series: Innovation in Global Health & Development; Connecting Through Innovation & Multi-lateral Partnerships. With defining the Salon Lecture series in Washington, DC, Mateja redefined economic, medical and science technology in the diplomatic circles. The forum presented the much needed multidisciplinary discussion on the interplay of health, healthcare, development, and advances in technology on the global level. The focus of the Series has been on Information and Communication Technologies and other issues of innovative disruptive technologies, telemedicine and telehealth. Specifically, each Salon event led by Dr. de Leonni focused on how technological advances affect disease trends, diagnosis and treatment delivery, public health, and economic development in the dynamically changing international environment in order to promote international collaboration. The Salon lecture series has been dedicated to showcase the innovators, be it experts in medicine and/or technology, scholars, or be it political leaders, policy makers, diplomatic representatives, and public figures from the US, EU as well as the international community who are involved in the field of global health and whose work is paving the way for new perspectives and approaches when integrating telehealth into existing healthcare systems. Most importantly, this forum has been dedicated to the motivated public which has the tools to help themselves as wireless technology has created a global environment where there is hardly any place in the world left that cannot make the first mile and last mile leap into global information, prevention, disease management and consultation. Thereby facilitating the old approach and practice in (global) health where medics and governments served a passive and helpless public.

In addition, Dr. de Leonni has been one of the leaders which defined the movement of women, ICT, and health at the level of the UNESCO which is the first of its sort on the global level. Under the auspices of Millennia2015 which commitment highlights women’s crucial role in the society and their unrecognized capacity as builders of alternative futures, she contributed to the creation of WeHealth and WeTelemed groups. In 2008, Unesco´s Millennia2015 decided that Information and Technology can connect people to give information about health through the study of “Women and eHealth: connected medical knowledge benefiting all”. Building on that, she has helped launch the Women and eHealth International Working Group (WeHealth) to create an active network of women and investigate how women have access and use ICTs for health in the local communities. Thereafter, the WeHealth leaders created the Women and Telemedicine group (WeTelemed) as a WeHealth Action Plan with the vision to constitute telemedicine as a powerful demonstration of women empowerment where the overall objective is to promote gender equality and women empowerment through the access and use of advanced technologies and Telemedicine combined with innovative integrated collaborative leadership programs, and compare the status of affairs in the US vs. the rest of the world. The plan reinforces the support of women’s role, especially to the developing world, in the context of medical diplomacy as a framework for an International Telemedicine Network for Women (ITNW); the support of women health care professionals, leaders, and IT designers to engage all generations to use tools in advanced technologies in order to promote the access to Telemedicine thereby improving women’s and family health, and last but not least to empower and actively support women health care professionals, leaders, and IT designers working in the telehealth arena and Telemedicine globally in the political, economic and social arena.

Dr. de Leonni Stanonik continues to practice vascular neurology; however she has become a powerful force, a champion in telemedicine research, policy development, advocacy at highest levels of government, gender empowerment, health/science diplomacy and international collaboration. She successfully combines her work in the diplomatic arena with telemedicine research and practice in order to define new leadership much needed to aid in the global economic development of healthcare systems thereby contributing to narrowing the digital divide. She is guided by passion for advanced technologies in health and science, second to none, which has changed the course of both her clinical as well as research careers.

Selected list of Dr. de Leonni’s most recent lectures and publications:

de Leonni Stanonik, M. Health quality indicator development in eHealth implementation of Slovenia. 1. Conclave of the HCQ of India, Ramaiah Medical College, Bangalore, India. December 9-10, 2011

de Leonni Stanonik, M. Managing expectations in developing a brain attack system of care: Global and Local (Glocal) Context. Adriatic Vascular Summit, Portorose, Slovenia, September 7-9, 2011.

de Leonni Stanonik M, Santos P. Telemedicine and Telestroke Services at the Texas Stroke Institute. Keynote at Intouch Health Summit. RP Clinical Innovations Forum. Santa Barbara, CA. July, 2011.

de Leonni Stanonik M, et al. Rebuilding healthcare in the era of exponential change. Keynote at Biocomp’2011. Las Vegas. Nevada. July, 2011. Telemedicine Chair.

de Leonni Stanonik M, Latifi R, Telemedicine support for a marathon swimmer and the Amazon swim expedition. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 2007;13(Suppl 3):83-85.

Latifi R, de Leonni Stanonik M, Merrell RC, Weinstein RS. Telemedicine in extreme conditions: supporting the Martin Strel Amazon swim expedition. Chapter in “Telemedicine for Trauma, Emergency and Disaster Management”. ARTEC publishing house, November, 2010.

Latifi R, Merrell RC, Doarn CR, Hadeed GJ, Bekteshi F, Lecaj I, Boucha K, Hajdari F, Hoxha A, Koshi D, de Leonni Stanonik M, Berisha B, Novoberdaliu K, Imeri A, Weinstein RS. "Initiate-build-operate-transfer"-- a strategy for establishing sustainable telemedicine programs in developing countries: initial lessons from the Balkans. Telemed J E Health. 2009 Dec;15(10):956-69.

Press Articles Of De Leonni Stanonik M: 

- Knoxville, TN News
- Neurology Today