Behind the Photo: Dr. Zbigniew Religa after 23 Hour Heart Operation


Taken by James Stansfield, this image was National Geographic’s Photo of the Year in 1987. It shows Dr. Zbigniew Religa after a 23 hour heart transplant, watching his patient’s vital signs, and his colleague asleep in the corner. The story behind this photo is just as amazing.

Dr. Religa, in fact, had just completed the first successful heart transplant in Poland, using  outdated medical equipment nevertheless. The fact that the patient, Tadeusz Żytkiewicz, outlived his surgeon and is still alive today, is a testament to this achievement.

Tadeusz Żytkiewicz

Dr. Religa would later pursue politics and was elected to the Polish Senate in 1993 and re-elected in 2001. He was a candidate in the 2005 Presidential elections in Poland, but after his support waned as the elections drew closer, he decided to drop out and encourage his voters to support Donald Tusk from the Civic Platform.

Dr. Zbigniew Religa died in 2009 at age 70 after a 2 year battle with lung cancer.



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