Elder Nelson honored as deserving, talented leader, teacher, surgeon

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve read this original poem April 22 after accepting the Legacy of Life Award from the LDS Hospital-Deseret Foundation's Heart and Lung Institute.

Hundreds of friends, family members and colleagues gathered for a banquet at a Salt Lake City hotel to honor Elder Nelson, who, until his calling as an apostle in 1984, was a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. The banquet also raised funds for medical research and disease prevention.Among several General Authorities present were President Gordon B. Hinckley and President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency.

Throughout the evening, which included remarks by colleagues and video presentations, Elder Nelson was lauded as a "good man" and a "visionary man." He is the third recipient of the Legacy of Life Award, which honors a Utah-associated citizen who has made significant contributions to the welfare of the people of Utah and the United States.

Elder Nelson's medical career spanned nearly 40 years. In 1955, he performed the western United States' first open heart surgical procedure using extracorporeal circulation - or the circulation of blood outside the body using machinery. He joined the staff at LDS Hospital in 1959. (Please see April 24, 1993, issue of the Church News for related article further describing Elder Nelson's achievements.)

After being presented the award by Robert N. Sears, chairman of the institute's Community Advisory Council, Elder Nelson paid tribute to others in the medical field. He said: "Tonight, recognition has been given to researchers who have brought light and hope where little existed before, as well as to patients whose cries for relief have strongly motivated everyone here. Courageous are those who blaze the trail of research to forge a better way. Even more courageous are they who endure risk in reaching for fruits of that research for a better life."

He added, "Worthy endeavors such as the Legacy of Life stimulates each one of us to self-assess personal priorities and principles."

The evening's main speaker, David P. Gardener, chairman and CEO of the George S. and Delores Dore' Eccles Foundation, and president of the William R. and Flora Hewlett Foundation, lauded Elder Nelson as "a deserving and extraordinarily talented person, respected professionally around the world, admired by his community and state, loved by his family and thousands of persons whose lives he has so beneficially touched as a spiritual leader, as a surgeon, and as a remarkable human being."

Continuing, he said: "Russell Nelson is a person I have respected, not for any one of his many accomplishments, but because he is accomplished in so many aspects and conventions of life."

Richard M. Cagen, administrator at LDS Hospital, spoke of the "giants who built LDS Hospital's cardiothoracic surgical program. We're here tonight to honor one of those giants. Elder Nelson's worldwide success as a surgeon and as an administrator is well-documented.

"But given the progress we've seen in cardiothoracic surgery at LDS Hospital in the last 30 years, his work as a teacher has had perhaps the most far-reaching effect. His influence has never stopped, and we don't think it ever will."

In a video-slide show - one of two video presentations honoring Elder Nelson and relating the development of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at LDS Hospital - the award recipient's wife, Dantzel, described one of her first impressions of her then-husband-to-be, whom she met at the University of Utah: "He was sitting on a bench in the corner studying. I thought, Who is that fellow? He's always got his nose in a book.' So a mutual friend introduced us, and I remember telling my mother and father,I have met the perfect man. He's just wonderful.' It was a great romance."

Among many friends at the banquet was a family which has particular warmth for Elder Nelson - the George Blair and Lillie Anne Bradshaw family. In April 1973, Elder Nelson performed by-pass surgery on Brother Bradshaw. At the time, the patient was only promised about seven years to live. Today, Brother and Sister Bradshaw are members of the Monument Park 7th Ward, Salt Lake Foothill Stake.

Sister Bradshaw spoke with the Church News about the surgery: "There I was alone and waiting to hear what had happened. Elder Nelson took time to come and write in my journal, draw a picture and explain thoroughly to me what had happened and to set my mind at ease. We love him."

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