Russell M. Nelson

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Russell M. Nelson
Russell Marion Nelson
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 7, 1984 (1984-04-07)
Called by Spencer W. Kimball
April 12, 1984 (1984-04-12)
Called by Spencer W. Kimball
Reason Deaths of LeGrand Richards and Mark E. Petersen[1]
Military career
Service/branch United States Army
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain
Unit Army Medical Corps
Battles/wars Korean War
Personal details
Born Russell Marion Nelson
(1924-09-09) September 9, 1924 (age 90)
Brigham City, Utah, United States
Alma mater University of Utah (B.A., M.D.)
University of Minnesota (Ph.D)
Occupation Surgeon
Spouse Dantzel White (1945–2005; deceased)
Wendy L. Watson (2006–present)
Children 10 (with Dantzel)
Signature of Russell M. Nelson

Russell Marion Nelson (born September 9, 1924) is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and an internationally renowned cardiothoracic surgeon.[2] Currently, he is the fourth most senior apostle among the ranks of the church.

Medical career[edit]

A native of Salt Lake City, Utah, Nelson studied at LDS Business College while in his mid-teens and then worked as an assistant secretary at a bank.[3] He attended the University of Utah, earning a B.A. in 1945 and an M.D. in 1947.[4] Shortly thereafter, he began working with the team of doctors which created the first heart-lung machine. In 1951, the machine was used in the first open-heart operation on a human being. Four years later, Nelson was the first doctor in Utah to perform successful open-heart surgery using a heart-lung machine.

Nelson served a two-year term of medical duty in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, being stationed in Korea, Japan, and at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He served his residency in surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and at the University of Minnesota, receiving a PhD in 1954.[4]

Nelson returned to Salt Lake City in 1955 and was initially on the academic staff of the College of Medicine at the University of Utah, where in November of that year he performed the first cardiac operation in Utah utilizing cardiopulmonary bypass. That operation was performed at the Salt Lake General Hospital (SLGH) on an adult with an atrial septal defect.

In March 1956, Nelson performed the first successful pediatric cardiac operation at the SLGH, a total repair of tetralogy of Fallot in a four-year-old girl. In 1959, he joined the staff of the Salt Lake Clinic, became associated with LDS Hospital, and continued to make major contributions to the development of the thoracic specialty, both in the clinical sciences and as the second director of the residency program.

Nelson's surgical volume was sufficiently large that it was a critical component of the residents' experience.[citation needed] He was an innovative and facile surgeon responsible for many improvements in cardiac operations.[citation needed] He also established a research laboratory at LDS Hospital.

By the late 1960s, Nelson's experience with artificial aortic valve implantation was such that he was able to report a large series of patients with an exceptionally low operative mortality.

In a unique combination of spiritual and professional obligations, Nelson performed heart surgery on LDS Church president Spencer W. Kimball.

In 1985, Nelson along with his colleague, Conrad B. Jensen, performed a quadruple bypass surgery on the Chinese opera performer Fang Rongxiang.[5][6]

Professional leadership acknowledgments[edit]

Nelson became involved with the administrative aspects of medicine and was elected president of the Utah State Medical Association. He was chair of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at LDS Hospital from 1967 to 1974 and director of the University of Utah Affiliated Hospital residency program in thoracic surgery from 1967 to 1984.

He was honored nationally by being elected president of the Society for Vascular Surgery and a director of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery.

Positions and awards[edit]

  • President of the Thoracic Surgical Directors Association
  • President of the Society for Vascular Surgery
  • President of the Utah State Medical Association
  • Director of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery
  • Chairman of the Council on Cardiovascular Surgery for the American Heart Association
  • Chairman of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the LDS Hospital
  • Vice-chairman of the board of governors at the LDS Hospital
  • "Citation for International Service", American Heart Association
  • "Heart of Gold Award", American Heart Association
  • "Golden Plate Award", American Academy of Achievement
  • "Distinguished Alumni Award", University of Utah[7]

LDS Church Service[edit]

In addition to his medical work, Nelson served frequently as a leader in the LDS Church. Before being appointed an apostle, he spent over six years (December 6, 1964 – July 11, 1971) as a stake president in Salt Lake City, during which time Joseph B. Wirthlin served as his second counselor. Nelson also served for eight years as the general president of the church's Sunday School, and four years as a regional representative.

Nelson was called to be an apostle by church president Spencer W. Kimball, to whom he had served as a personal physician for many years. Nelson was sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on April 7, 1984, in an LDS Church general conference. He was ordained an apostle on April 12, 1984, by Gordon B. Hinckley. At the same conference, Dallin H. Oaks was also sustained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Nelson and Oaks filled the vacancies in the Quorum that were created by the deaths of LeGrand Richards and Mark E. Petersen.

As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Nelson is accepted by the church as a prophet, seer, and revelator.

Since August 2007, Nelson has been a member of the Church Boards of Trustees/Education, the governing body of the Church Educational System, and serves as the chairman of its Executive Committee.[8]

Eastern Europe[edit]

After Thomas S. Monson's call to the First Presidency in 1985, Nelson was assigned as the apostle to oversee the work of church in Eastern Europe. In this assignment, he worked closely with Dennis B. Neuenschwander and Hans B. Ringger.[9][10] Nelson was involved in the first meetings between LDS Church leaders and the government officials of Bulgaria,[11] Romania, and the Soviet Union, and worked to continue LDS expansion and recognition efforts in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland.

In August 2010, Nelson journeyed to the dedication of the Kiev Ukraine Temple. Afterwards, in September, he traveled to LDS meetings in several European countries. He pronounced blessings upon Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo while visiting each of those countries; these serve as addendums to Monson's 1985 dedication of Yugoslavia for the preaching of the gospel.[12]

Nelson's only son, Russell M. Nelson, Jr., served as an LDS missionary in Russia. In 2011, Nelson returned to Russia to organize the first LDS stake in that country, headquartered in Moscow.[10]

Central Asia[edit]

On 25 August 2003, Nelson became the first member of the Quorum of the Twelve to visit Kazakhstan.[13] While there, Nelson visited government officials, was interviewed by Yuzhnaya Stalitsa television, and dedicated that country for the preaching of the gospel.[13]


When he was general president of the Sunday School, Nelson attended a meeting where Spencer W. Kimball urged those present to learn Chinese. Nelson took up this challenge and became fluent in Mandarin.[14] He developed ties with the medical community in China and made several trips there to train surgeons. In 1985, Nelson was the first person ever made an honorary professor of Shandong Medical College.[15] In 1995, Nelson went to Beijing, along with Neal A. Maxwell and other LDS Church leaders, on an official invitation of Li Lanqing, the Vice Premier of China.[16]


Nelson married Dantzel White on August 31, 1945, in the Salt Lake Temple. They have nine daughters and one son.[17] Dantzel died unexpectedly at the Nelson home in Salt Lake City on February 12, 2005. She was preceded in death by one daughter.

On April 6, 2006, Nelson married Wendy L. Watson in the Salt Lake Temple. Watson, originally from Raymond, Alberta, Canada, is the daughter of the late Leonard David Watson and Laura McLean Watson. At the time of the marriage, Watson was a professor of marriage and family therapy in the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University (BYU). Watson retired from her career on May 1, 2006. She received her R.N. in Calgary, Alberta, in 1970 her B.A. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1973, her M.Sc. from BYU in 1975, and her Ph.D. from the University of Calgary in 1984.[18] She served as chair of BYU Women’s Conference for 1999 and 2000,[citation needed] and is the author of several books and addresses recorded on CD, including Rock Solid Relationships and Things Are Not Always as They Appear. Her marriage to Nelson is her first.




See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nelson and Dallin H. Oaks were ordained to fill the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles caused by the deaths of Richards and Petersen.
  2. ^ Hemingway, Heather (12 October 2013). Cohen, Jeff, ed. (Jack Sweeney). Houston Chronicle Retrieved 11 September 2014. Russell M. Nelson, an apostle and internationally renowned cardiothoracic surgeon ...  Missing or empty |title= (help); |chapter= ignored (help)
  3. ^ Church News, Oct. 17, 2009.[full citation needed]
  4. ^ a b "Elder Russell M. Nelson",, accessed June 12, 2011.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Russel M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle by Richard J. Condie. Deseret Book 2003.
  7. ^ All cited in Russell M. Nelson
  8. ^ Wendy Leonard, "LDS Business College appoints new president", Deseret Morning News, December 9, 2008.
  9. ^ Gary Browning, "Russia and the Restoration", Out of Obscurity: The LDS Church in the 20th Century (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2000) p. 67
  10. ^ a b "Moscow Russia Stake organized", Church News, June 11, 2011.
  11. ^ "Bulgaria", Church News.
  12. ^ "Elder Nelson pronounces blessings on six Balkan nations", Church News September 23, 2010.
  13. ^ a b . The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Church News. 29 January 2010 Retrieved 11 September 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help); |chapter= ignored (help)
  14. ^ Spencer J. Condie, Biography of Russell M. Nelson.[full citation needed]
  15. ^ [ "China", Church News.
  16. ^ "Elders Maxwell, Nelson welcomed in China", Church News, April 29, 1995.
  17. ^ Nelson, Russell M. (February 23, 1993). BYU Speeches Retrieved 2008-02-18.  Missing or empty |title= (help); |chapter= ignored (help)
  18. ^ Carrie A. Moore, "Elder Nelson marries BYU Professor", Deseret News, April 7, 2006.
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^


External links[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
Neal A. Maxwell
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 12, 1984 –
Succeeded by
Dallin H. Oaks