Choosing the career

Lawyer:  Dr Cooley, do you consider yourself the best surgeon in the world?

Dr Cooley: Yes, I do.

Lawyer:  Don’t you think it is rather immodest?

Dr Cooley:  Perhaps, but remember, you put me under oath.

Dr Denton Cooley was considered by many to be probably the best surgeon in his time.

And he is from Texas.  Still alive.


I am very proud of education I received in Poland.  One of my best teachers was Helena Libera. She taught ancient history and Latin.  She also taught us  French after hours.  During the last year before graduation (there are no colleges in our  system) we had to choose our path for future education.  Mrs. Libera had a long and very succesful career as a teacher and many of her pupils ended up as  prominent members of our community and beyond.

One of the days was designed for discussion of medical career.

As a guest speaker she asked  Zbigniew Religa, who was a medical student just a few years older than us. Our medical school takes 6 years, to be followed by 2 years of internship.

Religa was very eloquent and described medical school program with many appealing  details.  Surely his presentation made an impression on me and helped define my interests better.

However the biggest disappointment to our teacher came, when Religa told us , that knowledge of Latin is not necessary to further our medical studies.  This was her main motivating factor in urging us to study harder her beloved subject. And frankly it was the only reason this young medical student was invited to speak to us. Balloon has burst.

Dr Religa became one of Polish best known cardiac surgeons.  He did the first cardiac transplant in that country in 1987. Surgery took 23 hours and this iconic picture was published by National Geographic.  It was taken by an anesthesiologist.  Please notice assistant sleeping in the corner and barely awake surgeon watching the patient  after a marathon surgery. The operating room looks like a war zone.  The patient was still alive 25 years after surgery.


Dr Religa received highest honors in hierarchy of Polish cardiac surgery and medicine. He became a member of Polish Senate and Minister of Health.  He was even was thinking about running for  President of Poland.

He died of lung cancer at the age of 70.  He was a lifetime smoker.

This is a tribute to his life compiled by his friends.  For extra credits.


Here is  press conference announcing his terminal lung cancer .


Mrs. Libera was one of many memorable teachers I had an opportunity to meet on my path.  When you still remember the words they spoke to you, principles they  lived by and details of their teaching, it had to be something special. Of course there were teachers, who disseminated communist propaganda, but with age and with help from our homes we were able to sift it out.

There was another teacher of mine, who invited me to work for him here in the United States. A very well-educated man, innovative cardiac surgeon.  One can talk with him about literature, music and art.  Consummated renaissance man. However when asked which books does he read, he said  “I don’t. If you write books you don’t have to read them.”

Do you have to have a big ego to be a cardiac surgeon?

Well, sometimes it can be justified.



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