Ex-Polish president Walesa who helped end communist rule has heart operation

Last updated at 16:34 29 February 2008

The former president of Poland who helped end more than four decades of communist rule underwent heart surgery today.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa was fitted with a dual-action pacemaker after doctors warned he might die unless operated on.

Mr Walesa, 64, a former Gdansk shipyard electrician, who led a workers' strike in 1980 that grew into the nationwide Solidarity freedom movement, has suffered increasingly ailing health in recent years.

So, in a bid to avoid a heart transplant, surgeons have fitted a biventricular pacemaker-defibrillator at the Methodist DeBakey Heart and Vascular Centre in Houston, Texas..

The pacemaker will synchronize the contractions of his heart, while the defibrillator will be on standby to shock the heart if needed.

Biventricular means it's working on both sides of the heart.

Before his surgery, which began at 2.30pm, Mr Walesa was in good spirits and looking forward having the surgery done, said Zbigniew Wojciechowski, the anesthesiologist and Polish translator during the surgery.

"He wants to get it done because he wants to go back on his way to doing what he has been doing: meetings, lectures and more active work," said Wojciechowski. "He wants to get on with his normal life."

On Wednesday, Walesa had a stent implanted into a clogged coronary artery.

Former President George Bush met with Walesa yesterday, calling him "one of my real heroes" in remarks broadcast on Polish TV.

After leading the 1980 shipyard strike and campaign against Poland's communist authorities he was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1983.

In 1989, Solidarity toppled Poland's communist regime and Mr Walesa went on to serve as Poland's first democratically elected president, from 1990-95.

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