Prof. Zbigniew Religa

Prominent Polish cardiac surgeon. Professor Religa performed his pioneer heart transplantation surgery, the first surgery of this type in Poland, in 1985.

One year later, he performed, also for the first time in the country, a simultaneous lungs and heart transplantation, and in the 1990s he introduced to Poland the practice of surgical treatment of chronic pulmonary embolism. In 1991, on the initiative of Professor Religa, the Foundation for Cardiac Surgery Development in Zabrze was established, which investigates heart prostheses and heart valves, and develops cybernetic medical equipment, such as the Robin Heart cardiac surgery robot.

He gained public notice owing to a photograph which was selected as the photo of 1987 by the ‘National Geographic’ and was listed among the 100 most important photos in history. It was taken by James Stanfield in the Silesian Centre for Heart Diseases in Zabrze. It features Professor Religa right after a laborious, long-hour heart transplantation surgery performed by him and his team. Tadeusz Żytkiewicz, the patient lying on the table, was the 19th person with a heart replaced by the famous cardiac surgeon. Today, 26 years later, he is the longest living patient after the transplantation of this organ.

Professor Religa was a member of the Polish Senate for two terms (in 1993–1997 and 2001–2005), and from 2005 to 2007 he was the Minister of Health of the Republic of Poland. For the next two years, he was a member of the Polish Sejm. He has received the Order of the White Eagle – the highest state honour in the Republic of Poland, and was a member of the chapter awarding this order. He died of a lung cancer.