Elder Russell M. Nelson Is Given American Heart Association Award
July 2002

“Elder Russell M. Nelson Is Given American Heart Association Award,” Ensign, July 2002, 76

Elder Russell M. Nelson Is Given American Heart Association Award

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has received the American Heart Association’s 2002 Gold Heart Award for his pioneering achievements in thoracic research and open-heart surgery.

His accomplishments in medicine have ranged from helping military surgeons in the field to building heart-lung machines for early open-heart operations.

Since being called as a member of the Twelve, “Dr. Nelson has been out of practice for 18 years, but there are a large number of surgeons in our specialty who still remember him for his goodness, his kindness, his professionalism, and his contributions,” said Dr. Donald B. Doty, an associate in cardiac surgery who presented the lifetime achievement award at an April banquet in Salt Lake City.

After the others had paid tribute to Elder Nelson at the banquet, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke. “You are a man of great learning, recognized over the world for your medical skills,” he said to Elder Nelson in his address. “Your achievements in medicine are so very many, and your contributions have been so remarkable that we cannot possibly enumerate them. …

“You have gone across the earth imparting your skills to surgeons in many lands. … Through faith you have moved ever forward and upward in the remarkable course of your life.”

Elder Nelson received his M.D. degree at the University of Utah. While completing his medical residency and earning a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, he was part of a team of physicians that built a heart-lung machine used in the first open-heart operation in the state. During the Korean War, he served in surgical research, visiting MASH units and field hospitals as a U.S. Army officer.

Later, as an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Utah Medical School, he built his own heart-lung machine. The machine was used successfully in an open-heart operation in 1955, making Utah the third state in the United States where such surgery was successfully performed. The machine was used for some time until commercially manufactured machines became available.

Elder Nelson went on to become director of the thoracic surgery residency at the University of Utah, chairman of the division of thoracic surgery at Salt Lake City’s LDS Hospital, president of the Society for Vascular Surgery, director of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, chairman of the Council on Cardiovascular Surgery for the American Heart Association, and president of the Utah State Medical Association. Throughout his career, Elder Nelson helped train many surgeons and published more than 100 scientific papers.

He also served as a stake president, Sunday School general president for the Church, and a regional representative before being called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1984.

Elder Nelson accepted the award at a banquet in Salt Lake City. (Photo by Scott Winterton, Deseret News.)