Polish heart surgeons excel at cardiac operations

Poland's heart surgeons are among the best in the world. Just a decade ago waiting lists of patients in need of heart surgery were far longer than in most European countries, but now that reputation has been turned round. There are Polish doctors who specialize in certain rare operations, Polish medical universities are teaching students from around the world, and patients from different countries are also opting for Polish hospitals.

Michal Zajac traveled to southern Poland, where he visited the 2nd Cardiac Surgery Clinic in Katowice to find out what lies behind this remarkable evolution.

Doctor Marek Jasinski specializes in heart valve repair operations. He and his colleagues at the Medical Centre in Katowice, share their expertise and knowledge in courses attended by fellow cardiologists and heart surgeons from all over the world.

"For the last five years, we have been organizing international meetings and during those courses new developments in cardiac techniques are presented and discussed."

Professor Robert Jones of Duke University in the United States agrees that Polish cardiology and cardiac surgery centers, like the one in Katowice, are among the world's leading institutions in the field:

"They are certainly comparable and some kind of lead the other centers. I've been very impressed with what I have seen in Poland. We have recruited eight Polish centers and each one of them has performed admirably, not only in the number of patients that they have entered but in the high quality work that they have done and the data that they have provided. In fact, they are the leading enrolling center into this world-wide study, which randomizes patients between a medical and a surgical strategy and if they get surgery there is a special way of doing it as well. We have 26 countries and 110 sites around the world. Poland is leading this group."

Doctor Marek Jasinski explains where the progress of Polish cardiology and cardiac surgery lies:

"The most important achievement of Polish cardiology or cardiac surgery is actually the opportunity to use all new developments for our patients. The introduction of all modern technologies has been the biggest achievement of the last decade to the extent that we have acquired our own experience, allowing us to share it with other for example during international congresses and courses."

Progress in Polish cardiology and cardiac surgery has been remarkable in the last decade. The number of operations carried out is comparable with that in Western Europe. Specialists have developed their own techniques for dealing with certain heart problems. They treat arrhythmia with electro magnetic waves or low temperature, thanks to which 80% of patients can be cured. Equipment has been developed, which assesses the condition of vessels in and around the heart with 90% accuracy and helps to anticipate the heart attacks. The rate of successful post heart attack operations has more than tripled in the last five years. While in the early 1990s 30% of patients treated for narrowing of the arteries had the same problems six months after undergoing surgery, today this is the case with just 4% of patients. More progress in Polish cardiology is imminent with efforts to create an artificial heart developing fast.

Jacek's grandfather died following a bypass operation 10 years ago. Now his chances of surviving would be much higher.

"I am visiting a cousin. He's had successful bypass surgery in this hospital. Before the operation we were terrified because our grandfather had died after such a surgery. But my cousin will live."

Unfortunately, these reassuring developments have not motivated Poles to take better care of their own hearts. Doctor Marek Dejna explains what we can do to prevent serious cardio-vascular disease and reduce our likelihood of becoming patients of cardiology wards:

"Definitely the number of procedures and the number of patients being served is growing in Poland but still we have waiting lists. The most important thing is to stop smoking, if you do. Generally we cannot do much about the fact that we are growing older. But we may modify the so-called risk factors that may cause to atherosclerosis to progress faster. So a degree of daily physical activity is important. The proper diet and watching your own hypertension is also important. For example one glass of wine daily. But everything in moderation."