President Russell M. Nelson and his late wife, Sister Dantzel W. Nelson, have been honored by the University of Utah for years of work and support in the field of cardiothoracic surgery.
During a dinner held on Temple Square on June 15, University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins announced the establishment of the Dr. Russell M. Nelson and Dantzel W. Nelson Presidential Endowed Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery.
President Nelson, who is a University of Utah alum and former faculty member of the university, worked as a heart surgeon until 1984, when, at the height of his career, he retired to accept full-time Church service.
Particularly notable during President Nelson’s career was his role in developing the heart-lung bypass machine that was used in the first open-heart surgery in the state of Utah. In 1956, President Nelson performed the first successful pediatric cardiac operation, and was at the forefront of surgeons in his field. In his career he completed more than 7,000 surgeries. He is the author of many publications and chapters in medical textbooks, and would give lectures around the world.
He has said of his wife Dantzel, who died in 2005, that her influence played an important role in his career, as she helped raise their 10 children and gave him invaluable support and encouragement.
Calling the evening “nostalgic,” President Nelson described how he and Dantzel created the heart lung machine and what it was like to perform the first open-heart surgery in Utah. He also shared about his experience leading the thoracic surgery training program at the University of Utah for 17 years.
In his remarks, President Nelson said the future of his field is “bright,” at the University of Utah.
“I am confident that the continuing work and research at the University of Utah will bring credit to this great institution,” said President Nelson, according to a Mormon Newsroom release. “We have a new [university] president, Mrs. Ruth V. Watkins, and we have a great department chairman in surgery, Samuel Finlayson, and we have a wonderful leader in charge of the cardiothoracic program, Dr. Craig Selzman. They and their associates will continue to get new information, their research will be applied to the clinical challenges, and they will continue to add luster to the great record of the University of Utah, its medical school and the department of surgery in particular.”
University President Watkins said the endowed chair “Will honor President Nelson’s role as an educator for the future, influencing generations of scholars and students.”
The endowed chair “provides an incredible way for us to attract talented faculty and keep those faculty with us, as well as to recognize excellence among us,” President Watkins said, according to the release. “Endowed chairs connect our university with our donors and our community and our highly distinguished faculty members.”
Craig H. Selzman, heart surgery professor in the University of Utah’s School of Medicine, is the first recipient of the endowed chair. He has been with the university for ten years.
"In accepting this chair, it is clear to me and probably many that know me that there's no way I am worthy of this honor,” said Dr. Selzman, according to the release. “That said, I do believe that our division as a whole is worthy of this. We are worthy of taking this name, living up to this name, maintaining this name and driving forth the legacy of this name. Forever moving forward, the values and principles of Dr. Nelson will be ingrained in all of those that join our division, that live in our division, work for our department and work for our university.”