Poland marks 10th anniversary of renowned cardiac surgeon’s death

The Polish Senate unanimously voted for the commemoration of Zbigniew Religa, the acclaimed cardiac surgeon, activist of medical organisations and politician, in a year of the 10th anniversary of his death.

Anniversary of the first heart transplant attempt

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The exhibition “Master Religa – humanist, doctor, politician” was inaugurated on Wednesday in the Polish parliament.

“He was a great admirer of human beings and a great admirer of life,” the Polish president Andrzej Duda said during the inauguration ceremony.

Mr Religa was the first Polish doctor who conducted a successful heart transplant. He and his team achieved it on November 5, 1985, in the Cardiac Surgical Clinic in Zabrze, southern Poland. Although the transplant itself was a success, the patient died two months later from sepsis.

The most famous patient of Mr Religa was Tadeusz Żytkiewicz, who received a heart in 1987. He lived 30 years after the transplant and, as it turned out, outlived Mr Religa. The photograph of the cardiac surgeon taken by James L. Stanfield after the surgery became famous, won the title of the “National Geographic” for the best photo of 1987.

Moreover, in 1995, professor Religa became the first surgeon to graft an artificial valve created from tissues taken from human corpses.

In 2014, a Zbigniew Religa biopic was released under the title “Gods” (“Bogowie” in Polish) . Tomasz Kot, who played the role of the surgeon, received a Polish Academy Award for Best Actor.

First artificial heart implanted in Poland

For the first time ever Polish doctors implanted an artificial heart for a patient, which enables him to function normally.

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Political involvement

Apart from being a successful doctor, Mr Religa was involved in the political and social life of his country. He was centre-right oriented and became a member of several parties. In 1993 and 2001 he was elected as a Polish senator.

He wanted to run for the office of the Polish President in 2005, but resigned before the elections took place. At the end of that year, he was nominated for the position of Health Minister. He was a cabinet member for two PMs: Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz and Jarosław Kaczyński. In the earlier general elections in 2007, he was elected as an MP of the Law and Justice party.

In 2008, he was honoured with the Order of the White Eagle, Poland’s Highest Order of Merit.

Mr Religa confirmed in 2007 that he had lung cancer. He underwent four surgeries and took two cycles of chemotherapy. For many years he had been a heavy smoker, there were days when he smoked two packets a day. He died on March 8, 2009.