After 23 hours of Heart Surgery – Doctor’s Photo that Shocked the World


His own heart may not beating anymore, but the heart of the man who he saved, is working without any problem. Polish Zbigniew Religa heart surgeon and patient Tadeusz Zitkevits, have a really unique link, as we see in the picture through the <<National Geographic>>.

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The watchful eye of a doctor, next to his patient, even after 23 hours of surgery, caused thrilled those who saw it and those who rightly decided to include the photo in the list of 100 best photographs published in history the magazine.


The maxim

Today the doctor is no longer alive, but his patient care to remind every opportunity benefaction of faithfully following the adage that says “if I benefited, never forget. If a benefactor, never remember. “

It was just a difficult surgery. It was an impossible operation. Yet, the Polish surgeon Zbigniew Religa decided to take over. The scientist who in 1985 performed the first heart transplant surgery in Poland, as Head of Cardiovascular Surgery Clinic in Zabrze, wanted to take personal salvation 61chronou then Tadeusz Zitkevits, which no doctor agree to surgery because of advanced age.

It was in August 1987 when the graft was found suitable. Without wasting time, the Religka informed the patient of the surgery was scheduled immediately. At the end of that day was spotted by American photographer James Lee Stanfilnt. The envoy magazine «National Geographic» seeking a photo illustrating the decline in the health sector of the country after the end of Soviet intervention.

After 23 hours in the operating room, staff shortages and sophisticated machinery, the sleepless Religa stood guard beside his patient, anxiously watching the progress of the health of the monitors that were connected.


The assistant

The lens Stanfilnt not focused only on the restless gaze dedicated physician and the patient, who struggled to stay alive with the help of machines outdated technology. He did, however include the frame and a depleted assistant surgeon, who could not stand and fell asleep in a corner of the theater.

“In this era you need more than just a nice picture. You need information “has the characteristics Stanfilnt comment for this download stressing that” each element adds dimension and drama to the photo and helps narrate a story. ” And the story in this case had a happy ending, because the next day the patient recovered and feeling healthier than ever. The most Religa sighed with relief, and after the second heart transplant was completed successfully.

Nobody thought then that his heart would Religa that would betray him first. The Polish surgeon excelled in the field of transplantation the ’90s, and in 2004 was awarded for the development of an implantable pump to support cardiac function.

Transplant surgery is among the hardest medical challenges. It not only deals with the meticulous replacing of organs from one body into another, but also incorporates a most powerful sense of delivering new life to a person. The latter seems to be the reason why Łukasz Palkowski’s internationally praised biopic on the Polish cardiac surgeon Prof. Zbigniew Religa was titled Gods / Bogowie (2014). Prof. Religa gained international fame when in 1987, the National Geographic featured James Stanfield’s picture of Religa sitting by his patient on the operating table after a successful heart transplant at the Silesian Centre for Heart Diseases in Zabrze near Katowice. As the image was ranked among the 100 most important photos in history, on the table lay the 19th patient whom Religa successfully saved since his first failed attempt in 1985, which was also the first of its kind in Communist Poland.

Zbigniew Religa – Served as Minister of Health

Parallel to his work as a physician, Prof. Religa was closely engaged in politics, serving as the Minister of Health between 2005-2007, and as a member of the Polish Sejm for the following two years. Spanning the centre and centre-right of Polish politics, Religa was the founding member and chairman of various parties between 1993-2004, and a member of the Polish Senate for two terms (in 1993–1997 and 2001–2005). Religa’s position as Minister of Health was succeeded between the years 2007-2011 by Ewa Kopacz, who is now also the current Polish Prime Minister. A graduate of the Medical University of Lublin, a paediatrician and specialist in family medicine, Kopacz gained international recognition in 2009 for her decline of pharmaceutical companies’ attempts to sell the Polish government the controversial swine flu vaccine.

Professor  Zbigniew Religa – Heavy smoker, died of lung cancer

Alongside the scientific activity and chased career in politics. Indeed arrived in 2005 to run in the presidential elections. Although he lost, he remained at the forefront, serving Health Minister of Poland from 2005 until 2007. Was not for the opportunity to put candidates in elections again, after the 2009 event lung cancer was the reason to prematurely cut the thread of life . Although he knew as a doctor of the dangers of cigarette smoker was a maniac who declared unfit to quit. When the disease is detected, it was already at a very advanced stage.


The funeral was held at the cemetery for non Catholics as the Religa declared atheist, broadcast live on television. Attending the ceremony was both the photographer and the Stanfilnt 88chronos longer Zitkevits Tadeusz, who holds as an amulet photo through the surgery with the doctor-hero at his side.



The picture shows Zbigniew Religa, famous Polish cardiac surgeon. In 1985 he performed first heart transplantation in Poland, learning from foreigner books(!).

In 1987 James Stanfield’s photo of Zbigniew Religa was proclaimed a photo of the year in National Geographic.

Zbigniew Religa keep watch on a monitor tracking the vital signs of a heart transplant patient. An exhausted college who helped Zbigniew Religa perform two transplants in one all night session sleeps in the corner.


National Geographic chose this as the best picture of 1987, and for good reason. Here, we see Dr. Zbigniew Religa keeping watch on the vital signs of a patient after a 23 hour heart surgery he conducted. In the lower right corner, you can see one of his colleagues who helped him with the surgery fallen asleep. Dr. Religa was a pioneer of heart transplantation in Poland, and even though the surgery was considered borderline impossible at the time, he took the chance, and the operation was entirely successful. Today, even though Dr. Religa’s heart has stopped beating, the one of his patient is still running.

Zbigniew Religa conducted the first successful heart transplantation in the country, and in June 1995 he was the first surgeon to graft an artificial valve created from materials taken from human corpses. In parallel to being a surgeon he also had a successful political carreer, though outside Poland he is still chiefly known for his medical achievements. In 1993, he became a member of the Polish senate and was re-elected in 2001. He was a promising candidate in the 2005 Polish presidential elections; even as he backed out of the presidential race with only 6% of the votes, he earned significant respect from the Polish population.

In 1987, the proposed heart transplant procedure received the green light, and Religa didn’t waste a single moment. The surgery was extremely demanding, lasting 23 hours, at the end of which Religa was photographed looking at his patient’s vital signs. The angst and fatigue really transcend the image, and the more you look at it, the more you see – everything adds a new dimension. The surgeon sleeping in the corner, the bloody mess, the myriad of cables… I just don’t get tired of looking at it. But when James Stansfield took this picture, he didn’t just tell a story of a surgery – in a way, he changed the world.


He showed a different side of modern medicine – he showed that it’s possible to achieve the impossible. It’s a hard, it takes a long time and it’s exhausting, but you can transplant a man’s heart and make him healthy again. The fact that his patient, Tadeusz Zitkevits, outlived Religa is only a testament of the surgery’s success.

This video below is in Polish, but it’s well worth it; it captures some moments of celebration after the surgery and bits of footage from the actual surgery

Watch the video below

Today, heart transplants save many lives which would otherwise be doomed. While it’s not technically a cure for heart or coronary disease, heart transplants typically have very good survival rates. It’s thanks to very talented and caring doctors like Zbigniew Religa that this is possible today; and it’s thanks to photographers like James Stansfield that we can truly admire their work.

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