The Most Iconic Photo of a Doctor That Shocked the Whole World & Story Behind It




Managing and healing the health of individuals is one of the most tiring & stressful jobs ever. It is also one of the most satisfying knowing that you are directly improving the life of patients and individuals who come to you with great expectations.

In this post, we are going to see and analyze one of the most iconic pictures that shows the dedication and hard work of doctors & health professionals.


People say pictures speak a thousand words. 

Today we are going to see and know more about one of the most iconic pictures of a doctor / his assistant next to the patient. You might have seen the picture before in social media.

This picture has also been judged as one of the top 100 pictures published in the history of the magazine. 

This picture is perhaps one of the most iconic pictures expressing so many points in one frame.

  • The dedication, knowledge & hard work by doctors/health professionals.
  • The will to serve and help humanity.
  • The will to survive in the patient.
  • The evolution of human race to something better.

The picture you see above has been judged as the most iconic and by many as the most shocking picture of a doctor/health professionals.



Let us analyze this picture that has a great story behind it. At the end of the article, you will also get to meet the patient (yes he has survived all these years after the surgery in 1985) and his views on this iconic picture.

In the picture, besides the patient on the operating bed, there are two people in the frame.

The Story behind the Photo

The iconic photo depicts the first ever heart transplant surgery in Poland in the year 1985.

The person you see sitting next to the patient bed is the polish surgeon Dr. Zbigniew Religa.

Poland at that time was newly separated from the Soviet Union. So, the health care facilities in Poland that time were not good. Hospitals had low numbers of trained health professionals and without the necessary equipment required for complicated surgeries like a heart transplant.

You can see in the picture that the entire 23-hour long heart replacement surgery was carried out by only 2 persons – Dr. Religa and his assistant.

So considering the circumstances at that time, it was a difficult and almost an impossible surgery to perform.

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 the advanced age of the patient.

It was in August 1985 when the graft was found suitable. Without wasting time, the Religa informed the patient of the surgery and it was scheduled immediately.

At the end of that day was spotted by American photographer James Lee Stanfilnt.

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.

In the picture, Dr. Religa has a tired and anxious look. That is the anxious look on the face of Dr. Religa while he is checking the vital statistics of the patient after the surgery was over.



The Sleeping Assistant in the Picture

At the right corner of the picture, there is also the focus on the assistant, who after the 23 hours long surgery could not even stand and immediately dozed off for a quick nap. 

The photographer told that it was vital to the theme of the picture. In the exact words of the photographer – ” In this era, you need more than just a nice picture. You need information”. 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. That was the first ever heart transplant case in Poland.


See Next Slide 

To check out the pictures of the patient on the bed

We are discussing one of the most iconic pictures ever taken in the world of health science.

We already discussed Dr. Zbigniew Religa and his assistant in the picture. There is one more character in the picture – the one on the operating bed on which the surgery was carried out.

Meet Zitkevits Tadeusz, currently 88 years old. He has outlived the surgeon who gave him a new lease of life. He is the living proof of the dedication and knowledge of the health professionals all over the world.

Wrapping up the article:

Dr. Zbigniew Religa, alongside the scientific activity and chased a career in politics. He was a candidate in I2005 to run in the presidential elections. Although he lost, he remained at the forefront, serving Health Minister of Poland from 2005 until 2007.

He didn’t have the opportunity to put candidature in elections again after 2009. It was due to the event of lung cancer, which was the reason to prematurely cut the thread of his life. Although he knew as a doctor the dangers of smoking a cigarette, he was a maniac smoker. When the disease is detected, it was already at a very advanced stage.

The funeral was held at the cemetery & broadcasted live on television. Attending the ceremony was both the photographer, Stanfilnt and the 88-year-old Zitkevits Tadeusz, who holds as an amulet the photo through the surgery with the doctor-hero at his side.




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