Medical pioneer, world faith leader and distinguished University of Utah alum Russell M. Nelson has donated his medical papers to the University of Utah.
At a ceremony Wednesday, Aug. 30, U President Taylor Randall and Senior Vice President for Health Sciences Michael Good accepted the gift of 35 volumes—including Nelson’s doctoral thesis, research publications and surgical notes for thousands of cardiothoracic surgeries he performed over a three-decade career in medicine.
“As we appropriately allow individuals to study your records, they will see how you were inspired and remember that you were not only a great healer of people, but you’ve been a great healer of souls and that you felt inspiration the entire time that you were performing your profession,” said Randall. “Thank you deeply for donating these volumes to the University of Utah.”
Nelson, the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, earned his medical degree from the U in 1947 at the age of 22. After graduation, Nelson went to the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, where he completed his internship and residency training in surgery. While at Minnesota, Nelson helped lead the research team that developed the heart-lung machine used to support the first-ever, human open-heart surgery in 1951. In 1955, Nelson returned to Utah, where he performed the state’s first open-heart surgery.
For 17 years, Nelson was director of the U’s Thoracic Surgical Residency program. The training he led encompassed work at four
hospitals—University Hospital, LDS Hospital, Primary Children’s Hospital and Veterans Hospitals. In addition to his work in Utah, Nelson also was a visiting professor in Mexico, Chile, Uruguay and China. In 2020, Nelson received an honorary doctorate from the U for his valuable contributions to his field and his life of service.
During his 30-year career, Nelson performed nearly 7,000 surgeries. With the exception of operations performed while he was a visiting professor, Nelson kept copies of all of his operative records, which are included in the 35 volumes. Nelson also provided a digital version of the volumes. All the documents will be archived and cataloged in the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library. While many of Nelson’s notes must remain private under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, physicians and patients will be able to access them for insights into individual cardiothoracic surgeries as well as future studies of Nelson’s surgical innovations and advancements.
“I am deeply grateful for the important role the University of Utah played in my education and surgical career,” Nelson said. “Wendy and I are very pleased to donate these valuable records to the University of Utah. Thank you for accepting these tangible tracks of my surgical career.”’
Leaders of the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine noted that medical education and the university’s current cardiothoracic surgery program are built on Nelson’s groundbreaking legacy. To honor his contribution, a presidential endowed chair in Nelson’s name was created at the U in 2018 .
“This is a truly extraordinary occasion,” said Craig H. Selzman, the inaugural Dr. Russell M. Nelson and Dantzel W. Nelson Presidential Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery. “We can’t quite describe the impact of you on our field. We are lost without the work that you and other folks of your era did for us.”
Selzman noted that he was wearing a pin for the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery. The pin includes three mission pillars: to heal, to discover and to learn. Below that are the initials “R.M.N.”
“R.M.N. is the foundational ethos of what we teach our trainees and our faculty,” Selzman said. “It’s aspirational. I cannot live up to the R.M.N. ethos, but I try.”
The donation of Nelson’s papers is not his first gift of knowledge and history to the U. In 2009, he donated manuscripts, publications, films of surgical procedures, operative records and other items related to his career to the J. Willard Marriott Library’s special collections, establishing the Russell Marion Nelson Collection.
Read the LDS Church Newsroom piece here.