Anna Wyszyńska talks with Assoc. Prof. of medical sciences Marian Zembala, a cardiac surgeon and transplant surgeon – the director of the Silesian Centre of Heart Illnesses in Zabrze

ANNA WYSZYŃSKA: – Contact with the film starts with its title. Don’t you, Professor, think that the title ‘Gods’ provokes?

ASSOC. PROF. OF MED. SCIENCE MARIAN ZEMBALA: – In the first moment the title is shocking, but a while of peaceful analysis is needed. In Christianity there is not a plural number: ‘gods’. The key is also in the sequence of the main character’s talk with an ethical commission when there appears an accusation: ‘You behave like heroes, but you are not rulers of life, you do not have a right’. This accusation, finally, turns out to be untrue. From the beginning of the work on the film, we have been conducting dialogues with its authors about the title, because we expected various reports. But after its premiere which took place in Zabrze, one of bishops said: ‘It is good that there is this title, as it provokes positively’.

– How was the film understood by students and cooperators of Prof. Religa? After all this is your history.

– Prof. Jacek Moll said that he had been moved by staging accuracy. I heard Krysia Czaja, a circulating nurse saying during the show: “Only a blanket in the professor’s surgery is missing”. After that, on the screen there appeared the surgery and the same blanket in it. The authors of the film studied photos and recordings carefully. A doctor, living in Germany, who had a good camera visited us, thanks to which we made documentations of all operations. The creators of the film used this material and they should be appreciated for it. It is not a film of the kind: to invest as little as possible, and to gain as much as possible.

– Is it a historical film?

– The film has a few planes. In an invitation to bishops to come for the premiere we wrote that the film is a personal and social reflection about sense and need of doing good to a neighbor in need. It reminds about dangers which are brought by the contemporary world, which is subjected to difficulties, apathy and helplessness too easily and too frequently, instead of getting mobilized, and pointing to solutions maintaining principles of the Decalogue in the everyday life. This is how I understand this film.

– The Provincial Centre of Heart Diseases in Zabrze had a difficult beginning. On the screen we see a building in a raw state, in whose finishing doctors and nurses are engaged. Did you learn to lay tiles then?

– Earlier. After the fifth year of my studies I left for Western Germany at that time, in order to earn a bit. There I learnt that what is the most important are a level and plastic cross braces, with which tiles are separated. In hospital we were doing better than workers.

– Soon later Zabrze became famous for heart transplantation. Do you remember the first patients?

– The first patient was from my home town Krzepice. I knew him very well, he ran a big livestock, and was an extremely hard-working man. He died on the sixth day after the transplantation because of renal failure, blood clotting disorder, multi-organ failure. Another patient was from near Wrocław who lived for 31 days. He was the patient who walked freely in hospital; we were looking for a place for his rehabilitation. We suspected that the cause of his death was a virus – it turned out that it was cytomegalovirus infection which neither we nor even the Germans were able to identify it. Whereas the next patient lived with a transplanted heart for 7 years.

– Was it a director who supported the centre financially in the film?

– It was the director but not the one from the film scenario. After the operation he was a creator of the first group of our volunteering. Our patient was also a boy who after a transplantation was under strict care of his mother but later became a hero of discos. He returned to us with complications, and, finally, he died. There was also a 17-year-old girl, an ambitious student and school contest winner. She said that the medications which she took after a transplantation, disturbed her concentration and she hid them in a drawer. She had a severe recoil and it was impossible to save her life. But we should remember that in the second group of ten patients there were those who lived with their transplanted hearts for 22-24 years.

– The film was rewarded at a festival in Gdynia, is very popular on internet. Is it because it strongly engages a viewer’s emotions?

– Yes, it does, and I have received a message from my patient recently who wrote that his brother, who is addicted to alcohol, said after watching the film that he would try to have treatment once again. I wish him to be successful in it because it is necessary to fight. This film is also about it.

– Nearly 30 years ago you assisted in the first heart transplantation in Zabrze. What was next?

– Prof. Zbigniew Religa, who created and began a program of heart transplantation in Poland, gave me the role of management after the fifth transplantation. He was at the top of fame at that time and he used a credit which was given to him by his position, in order to begin a new program – building a Polish artificial heart. Besides that, he became a stone which started an avalanche of changes. Let’s recall a situation when prof. Moll, at a conference in Polanica, warns the doc. Religa: ‘You must be careful!’. It concerned his not being exposed to a group of professors. The conference was attended by dr. Marius Barnard, a famous heart surgeon from Kapsztad, a brother of prof. Christian Barnard, who made the first successful heart transplantation in the world. We were very excited by this success. But when my young colleague asked the speaker a question, his supervisor scolded him later: ‘If you say something again, I will dismiss you’.

– And is it authentic?

– It is authentic because young people were supposed to listen only. Whereas Religa let us do more difficult operations, let us develop and, as a result, his students filled clinics of heart diseases in the country. Another issue: in the 80s and in the beginning of the 90s of the last century, Poland was at the end of Europe in relation to infarct mortality. Prof. Stanisław Pasyk, whose person is present in the film, elaborated an invasive method of treating myocardial infarction and in Zabrze created the first hemodynamic laboratory. Later, thanks to the network of such laboratories, it was possible to save life of thousand patients. The program of treating myocardial infarctions in Zabrze, initiated in 1985 as the second one in Europe, became the base for today’s success in the fight with myocardial infarction and its consequences in the whole country.

– Does the building which we see on the screen still exist?

– The film was made in another building, whereas our ‘matecznik’, that is, ‘A’ building still exists and functions. After some time other buildings appeared: ‘B’ with wards for patients, ‘D’ – where there is children’s cardiology ward and transplantation ward, and ‘C’ – where there is going to be a modern clinical-scientific centre of lungs and heart transplantation and cystic fibrosis treatment. The newest building ‘R’ – the Park of Medical Technologies Kardio-Med Silesia, that is, a modern scientific-exploratory centre, where – as it happens in centres all over the world, scientific programs will be realized in cooperation with the clinic. Next May the building will be given for usage. Actors from the film ‘Gods’ said that they would come for the opening.


„Niedziela” 45/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
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