Although he’s not alive, at least the heart of the man he saved is still working without a problem. Zbigniew Religa, a polish heart surgeon and Tadeusz Zitkevits, his patient, have a unique bond, as it can be seen on the photo.
The photograph portrays the doctor, next to his patient, after 23 hours of surgery. The photo caused immediate amazement in people and it was therefore included in the 100 best photographs in history featured in National Geographic magazine. The doctor is no longer among the living, but the care for his patients will always be there to remind us of his greatness.
Even though the surgery was difficult and almost impossible, Religa, head of Cardiovascular Surgery Clinic in Zabrze decided to do everything in his power. At the time, no other doctor wanted to agree to surgery since the patient was of older age. The heart transplantation was done in August 1987 and at the end of the day it was photographed by James Lee Stanfilnt, an American photographer.
On the photo taken in the operating room, besides the sleepless Religa who anxiously watches the progress on the monitors to which the patient was connected, we see a fatigued assistant surgeon who fell asleep in the corner of the room.
The story that the photograph tells has a happy ending since the patient successfully recovered. This adds dimension and drama to the photo, according to Stanfilnt.
The polish surgeon excelled in the field of transplantation back in the 90’s and in 2004 he was awarded for the invention of an implantable pump for support of cardiac function.
Even though Religa knew the dangers of being a smoker, he was a passionate smoker and couldn’t quit. In 2009, unfortunately, his life was prematurely ended due to lung cancer. Nothing could have been done since the cancer was diagnosed in advanced stage.
Since Religa was an atheist, the funeral was held at the cemetery for non-Catholics and it was broadcasted live on television. Among the attendees were the photographer Stanfilnt and the 88-year old Zitkevits.