Growing in Knowledge and "Going to Work"
Touting six degrees (three of which are honorary) as well as three honorary professorships from universities in the People’s Republic of China, President Nelson embodies the quest for knowledge and self-improvement that each of us strives for in this life. President Nelson’s drive fueled him to jump into medical school even while he was finishing his final year of his bachelor’s degree at the University of Utah. Then, through hard work and his unquenchable determination, he finished his four-year medical program a year early, becoming an M.D. in 1947 at the age of 22.
What began as a meteoric educational experience soon turned into an explosive career, leading him to earn a spot on the list of Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, and Who’s Who in Religion.
Among some of his other awards and credentials earned over his career are: President of the Utah State Medical Association, "Heart of Gold Award" recipient, President of the Thoracic Surgical Directors Association, President of the Society for Vascular Surgery, Director of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery, and Chairman of the Council on Cardiovascular Surgery for the American Heart Association.
While pursuing additional education in a joint surgical training and Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota, President Nelson helped work on a research team that built a heart-lung machine that made the first open-heart operation possible in 1951. Later, President Nelson built his own heart-lung bypass machine and performed the first open-heart surgery in Utah. Just a year later, President Nelson performed the first successful pediatric heart surgery.
No doubt, President Nelson’s career has been one of many firsts and many successes. But, President Nelson poignantly remembers many of the failures in his pioneering efforts.
“Fifty-eight years ago I was asked to operate upon a little girl, gravely ill from congenital heart disease,” he shared in his October 2015 general conference address. “Her older brother had previously died of a similar condition. Her parents pleaded for help. I was not optimistic about the outcome but vowed to do all in my power to save her life. Despite my best efforts, the child died. Later, the same parents brought another daughter to me, then just 16 months old, also born with a malformed heart. Again, at their request, I performed an operation. This child also died. This third heartbreaking loss in one family literally undid me.
“I went home grief stricken. I threw myself upon our living room floor and cried all night long. Dantzel stayed by my side, listening as I repeatedly declared that I would never perform another heart operation. Then, around 5:00 in the morning, Dantzel looked at me and lovingly asked, ‘Are you finished crying? Then get dressed. Go back to the lab. Go to work! You need to learn more. If you quit now, others will have to painfully learn what you already know.’”
Since that time, President Nelson has continued to “go to work,” even when life is at its most challenging. This has allowed him to stand as a pioneer, not only within the medical profession, but later as an apostle and now as a prophet.
President Nelson also credits this experience as what helped him rise to the call when he was asked to operate on President Spencer W. Kimball, who was then serving as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve. "I shall never forget the feeling I had as his heart resumed beating, leaping with power and vigor,” said President Nelson, according to the Deseret News. “At that very moment, the Spirit made known to me that this special patient would live to become the prophet of God on earth."