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Dr. Miroslaw (Mirek) Vitali, O.B.E.,
born Oct. 5 1914 in Human, Ukraine; died Feb. 19, 1992 in London, England.

Dr. M. Vitali      Mirek Vitali was the inspirational example of the doctor dedicated to providing best possible care to his patients, even at personal cost. An outstanding orthopedic surgeon, he was presented with the Order of the British Empire in 1986 by Queen Elizabeth personally, in recognition of his outstanding work helping British servicemen who had lost limbs in World War II. He was also recognized by the Polish Government, which awarded him the highest Polish award Polonia Restituta and the Polish Order of Merit.

     He was born to Polish parents in Human in the Ukrainian region of Russia. His father, after short imprisonment by the Bolsheviks, managed to reach Warsaw with his family in 1924. Mirek completed Mikolaj Rey High School in Warsaw in 1932. He completed studies at University of Warsaw School of Medicine just in time to be commissioned as a Medical Officer as Poland was invaded by the Nazi armies. Taken prisoner, he escaped to marry his sweetheart, a young dental surgeon, in November 1939. They both were active in the underground resistance movement, while he worked in the orthopedic department of the Red Cross hospital. They took part in the Warsaw Rising in August 1944, and together operated a field hospital in the center of Warsaw.

     This is when the paths of Bill Biega and Mirek Vitali met. I was wounded the first day of the Rising with a machine-gun bullet destroying my left wrist. The chief surgeon at the hospital to which I was taken, took one look and decided that the wound was so severe that amputation would be necessary. His assistant, Mirek Vitali, decided that he would try to save my arm. He had me carried to his newly established field hospital in the cellars of a paper store. There, without the help of X-ray or any other modern equipment, he managed to piece the trashed bones together, and secure with a plaster sleeve with a small hole for cleaning the wound. 12 days later the Vitalis were witnesses at my wedding with my sweetheart, the leader of a platoon of field nurses and couriers. They even offered us their own wedding rings. We declined their gracious proposal using curtain rings instead, but this proposition was typical of their life-long desire to help others.

     The Rising collapsed after 63 days of fighting against terrible odds, deprived of any help by the Soviet armies just across the river. The Vitalis and the Biegas traveled together to prisoner-of-war camp in the same box car. At Stalag IVB in Zeithain both Vitalis participated in my English language classes.
 Mirek & Rysia Vitali After the end of the war the Vitalis made their way to Italy, to the Polish Second Corps which was part of the British Eighth Army, and finally arrived in England. Shortly after he was demobilized in 1948, Dr. Vitali was appointed orthopedic registrar at Queen Mary's Hospital in Roehampton and commenced his life-long work with amputees and developing improved artificial limbs.

     In 1968 Dr. Vitali became principal medical officer for prosthetic research. After his retirement in 1979 he continued to be a consultant at Roehampton and working in the clinic until a year before his death. He was also a consultant to Westminster Hospital and honorary adviser to the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital. On behalf of the British Council he traveled all over the world giving lectures and instructional courses to help improve the quality of prosthetic care and fitting of artificial limbs in many countries. He was co-author of a major text-book "Amputations and Prostheses." ( ISBN: 0-7020-0570-3) published in London in 1978, that was translated into many languages.
After the death in 1982 of his long-time friend and patient Sir Douglas Bader, the legless fighter ace of World War II, a foundation was established to build a rehabilitation center for the disabled. Dr. Vitali was chosen as trustee and medical adviser. The Douglas Bader Center was finally opened in 1993, at Queen Mary's Hospital in Roehampton, a year after Dr. Vitali's death.
     Dr. Vitali was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1963. He received his Doctorate from the Poznan Medical Academy in Poland in 1973.

     One small story illustrates his concern for his patients. A young Portuguese victim of polio was brought to London for rehabilitation and to learn to walk again. When Mirek learned that the girl's mother was unable to accompany her daughter to London because Portuguese customs did not permit a gentlewoman to reside alone in a hotel, the Vitalis invited the woman to stay in their home as their personal guest for the duration of the treatment.
Rysia Vitali suffered a stroke in 1991. Mirek became so despondent that shortly after her death, he died himself at the age of 77. Relatives of Dr. Mirek Vitali, in addition to two adopted daughters, are his nephew living in Poland, and a grand-mephew, Dr. Alex Vitali, resident of British Columbia.

Some information is based on the obituary in the London "Times" of March 5, 1992.

    Links to books and papers by Dr. Miroslaw Vitali
  1. Management of Congenital Deformities, lecture presented to Committee on Prosthetics Research and Development, Washington, D.C., March 28-30, 1978.
  2. Amputations and Prostheses , by Miroslaw Vitali, availability from

Note: The studio portrait, from Dr. Vitali's collection, is provided by courtesy of the archives of Queen Mary's Hospital, London - photographer unknown. The photograph of Mirek and Rysia is from Bill Biega's personal album.

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