Polish cardiac surgeon Zbigniew Religa gave his patient another 30 years of life

The man, who saved more than one human life and made an invaluable contribution to the development of medicine

This is a photograph from 1987: a tired doctor is sitting down next to his patient after a recent operation. It would seem that there are thousands of such pictures, but this one is considered one of the most touching.

The Polish cardiac surgeon Zbigniew Relig is depicted on it. When this picture was taken, he had just completed a 23-hour heart transplant operation. If you look closely, in the background you can see his assistant, Romualdo Chishon, sleeping right in the corner of the operating room after a hard day’s work.

On the table next to the tired doctor is his patient, Tadeusz Zhitkevich, whose life was saved by Relig. This operation became a landmark also because it was the first successful heart transplant in Poland, after which the elderly man, who underwent it, lived for another 30 years.

Zhitkevich got an appointment with the famous professor at the age of about 60, having suffered several heart attacks before. Despite the disappointing forecasts of many colleagues, Religa decided to undergo transplantation.

The professor died in 2009 from lung cancer at the age of 71.
Zhitkevich, to whom Religa gave a second life, was grateful to him until his last breath and even posed with the famous photo (photo below), which was included in the top 100 best National Geographic frames. Tadeusz himself died in 2017, forever going down in history, as did his doctor.

Zbigniew Religa is a hero of his time, who saved more than one human life and made an invaluable contribution to the development of medicine. Even if the doctor himself has been dead for a long time, his memory will remain in the hearts of not only his patients, but also each of us.

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