Portrait: Helios Heart Surgeon Prof. Dr. Diyar Saeed
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Portrait: Helios Heart Surgeon Prof. Dr. Diyar Saeed


Down-to-earth networker at world level

The congratulations were many and came sincerely. Each of the well-wishers knew only too well the medical achievements of Prof. Dr. Diyar Saeed over the past two decades before his appointment to the board of the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation (ISHLT). The expertise of the 44-year-old heart surgeon at Herzzentrum Leipzig is in demand - worldwide.

The working day of Diyar Saaed, Managing Senior Physician at the University Hospital for Cardiac Surgery and Head of the Heart Transplantation and Artificial Heart Program at the Heart Center Leipzig, usually lasts thirteen hours. Already before seven a.m., Prof. Saeed enters his office. One looks in vain for certificates, souvenir photos or other accessories in the room. Only the background picture on his computer gives a glimpse of Saeed as a private person. It shows a happy man in the presence of his wife and their three children.

Saeed's mountain bike leans against his desk, a storage area for patient files, folders of bureaucratic clinic procedures, and also dossiers of various research projects, which take up to 20 percent of his working time. Despite the long and stressful workday, he enjoys keeping his nose to the wind for half an hour of physical activity in the morning as well as in the evening.

Specialist in minimally invasive procedures

A meeting with Prof. Saeed is never without interruptions. The phone is ringing off the hook, with the caller communicating in either German or English. His assessment and medical judgment have the highest global standing. Saeed, a native of Iraqi Kurdistan who has lived in Germany since 2001 and has been at the Heart Center Leipzig since 2018, knows this. Yet he remains down-to-earth and friendly in nature.

As a rule, he is in demand as a doctor at the operating table once or twice a day. The fact that his reputation is based, among other things, on being an expert in heart transplants and artificial hearts does not mean that Saeed's day-to-day business is based on this. Rather, minimally invasive procedures are the main focus of surgeon Diyar Saeed's work. Skilled and experienced in his actions, he performs bypass operations, complex reconstructions of the heart valves or operations on the main arteries through small incisions. It's these surgical procedures, therefore, that fuel his reputation as a hands-on doctor.

"Stress," he says with a shrug and a smile, "should be avoided for the sake of heart health, but it's not always easy." By his own admission, he enjoys the hours in the operating room all the more. Here, everyday life bounces off him a bit. Even if many an important call is put through to him even there. Nevertheless, the operating room is a place where he can focus entirely on his patients. Operating, repairing, making healthy - the passion of physician Diyar Saeed.

Renowned addresses

Apart from all the surgical interventions, Prof. Saeed's activities include the mundane things of a boss. His job includes organizing upcoming operations, the associated personnel planning and keeping an eye on the medical needs of patients. He is also a sought-after contact for young senior physicians. After all, the advice of an expert who regularly flies to congresses in the U.S., who has operated and conducted research at the Cleveland Clinic in the northeastern United States and later at North Western University in Chicago, who worked for nine years at the University Clinic for Cardiac Surgery in Düsseldorf, and who has published more than one hundred papers in renowned journals, cannot be bought for gold.

International accolade

Prof. Saeed is well aware of the honor. However, he also points out the enormous preliminary work he has done to ultimately be nominated and elected. "Since 2009, when I became a member of the ISHLT, I have made my knowledge available, among other things, as a reviewer for scientific papers, but especially in the area of teaching and research," he clarifies. For example, he organized continuing education courses or led them himself as a coach. His comments on basic research in cardiac medicine can be found in countless publications and have long been part of the basis for the work of many clinics.

The board of the ISHLT consists of seven members. In addition to Prof. Saeed, there are only two other Europeans. Building up a network, distributing third-party funds for research projects, but also many organizational actions determine the work of the board. He himself would like to see third countries become more closely involved in this network in the future. The board's recent decision to lower the ISHLT's dues is also in his spirit. "This is intended to make it easier for young physicians to gain access to this pool of specialist knowledge," he explains.

Skepticism about the pig heart remains

The successful transplantation of a pig's heart into a human on January 11, 2022, in Baltimore, Maryland, made Prof. Saeed sit up and take notice. Although he does not hide his skepticism. In his view, the intervention is still too early, and the experimental phase is far from mature. Nevertheless, the operation was a sign of respect. "At some point, the transplantation of pig hearts will certainly become standard. Just like the 3-D printer, which is already having an impact on heart medicine to some extent.

But the present seems much more important to me: far more people must declare their willingness to donate organs," he demands. The fact that Germany is far behind in the number of organ donors in a European comparison is unacceptable, says Prof. Saeed. Even the new Organ Donation Act, which came into force in March 2022, does little to change this. "Much stronger signals would have to come from politics, and education on the subject would have to be significantly improved," he says. Artificial hearts, adds Saeed, are a good alternative for many patients as a bridge to transplantation. But in the long term, they are no substitute for a real human heart.

Perfect conditions

Plenty of exercise, a healthy diet, no nicotine and no alcohol, even small amounts, are well-meaning advice from heart surgeon Diyar Saeed for anyone who wants to do something good for their heart. Saeed sets a good example and at the same time stands by those whose heart once starts to stutter. In this case, Saeed clearly emphasizes, he knows he has a perfect team around him, from medical colleagues to OR staff to nurses.

"From a professional perspective, I have already seen and experienced many things. Therefore, I think I can judge that Herzzentrum Leipzig is a top address in cardiac medicine. We are professionally first-class and operate in every conceivable way. Being able to work here as a doctor is a stroke of luck for me," he says with conviction.

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