man with surgical scar


A fearless artist faces his biggest foe

Maciej Toporowicz has endured open heart surgery twice and may face more

Maciej Toporowicz remembers lonely times growing up in Poland, when he was excluded from sports and other school activities. “It had a psychological impact on me because I was feeling that maybe I was not good enough.”

It was because of his damaged heart — the result of rheumatic fever.

As Maciej grew, so did his confidence in his athletic ability and his creativity. He took up skiing and surfing, while his politically charged art criticized the Polish regime. Eventually Maciej left his homeland behind, but would continue to face heart problems.

Life-saving surgery

In his late 20s, an infection led to inflammation in Maciej’s heart. He needed open heart surgery to repair damaged valves.

His second open heart surgery came in his 50s. This time, a valve had to be replaced.

Maciej knows these operations saved his life. But the experience was traumatic. “After the surgery, for weeks you are in really bad shape. Even walking up the stairs is difficult.”

It’s hard to believe, when you are so weak, that you will ever get strong again.
Maciej Toporowicz - - Heart disease survivor
Maciej Toporowicz shows his scar from open heart surgery.
Maciej Toporowicz has endured open heart surgery twice and may face more

Meanwhile researchers including Dr. Anita Asgar and Dr. Marie-Annick Clavel are working on improving treatments for damaged heart valves, thanks to support from Heart & Stroke donors.

Facing the future

Today, at 62, Maciej feels strong. He takes care of himself and exercises every day. And he continues to make political art, much of it using self-portraits (see his work on Instagram @noqontrollo). “Basically I am an optimist. I still have some symptoms like arrythmia. I am on different drugs, including a blood thinner. But it’s all manageable.”

Maciej’s heart valve replacement may wear out one day. He dreads the thought of more surgery, but he refuses to dwell on it.

Maciej is hopeful that research will continue to improve valve surgery and reduce recovery time. He’s counting on it to beat heart disease.