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Russell M. Nelson
Full name Russell Marion Nelson
Born September 9, 1924 (1924-09-09) (age 85)
Place of birth Salt Lake City, Utah
LDS Church Apostle
Called by Spencer W. Kimball
Ordained April 12, 1984 (aged 59)
Ordination reason Deaths of LeGrand Richards and Mark E. Petersen[1]
LDS Church General Authority
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
Called by Spencer W. Kimball
Start of term April 7, 1984 (aged 59)

Russell Marion Nelson (born September 9, 1924) is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, one of the governing bodies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). He is also an American physician and cardiothoracic surgeon. Currently, he is the fourth most senior apostle among the ranks of the Church.


Medical career

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.[2] He did undegraduate studies and then received an M.D. degree from the University of Utah in August 1947. 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. Later he worked for a year at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. During this time in Massachusetts he also received training from Harvard Medical School.[3]

He received a Ph.D. degree from the University of Minnesota in 1954.

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 septa 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 the 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. He was an innovative and facile surgeon responsible for many improvements in cardiac operations. 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.

Professional leadership acknowledgments

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.


Past professional positions and honors

  • 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" from the American Heart Association
  • "Golden Plate Award" from the American Academy of Achievement

Spiritual commitments

In addition to his medical work, Nelson became 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 set apart by Spencer W. Kimball. Joseph B. Wirthlin was his second counselor during all his time as stake president. Nelson also served for eight years as the general president of the church's Sunday School, and four years as a regional representative of the Twelve.

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 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.

Appointed in August 2007, Nelson is currently as a member of the Church Boards of Trusteees/Education, the governing body of the Church Educational System. He serves as the chairman of the executive committee of the Church Boards of Trusteees/Education.[4]


Nelson married Dantzel White on August 31, 1945 in the Salt Lake Temple. They have 9 daughters and a son.[5] Dantzel died unexpectedly at her home in Salt Lake City on February 12, 2005. She was survived by nine children.

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 1 May 2006. She received her R.N. in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, her B.A. from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, her M.Sc. from BYU, and her Ph.D. from the University of Calgary. She served as chair of BYU Women’s Conference for 1999 and 2000, and is the author of several books and addresses recorded on CD, including Rock Solid Relationships and Things Are Not Always as They Appear.

See also


  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. ^ LDS Church News, Oct. 17, 2009
  3. ^ Mormon Times May 27, 2009
  4. ^ Wendy Leonard, "LDS Business College appoints new president", Deseret Morning News, December 9, 2008
  5. ^ Nelson, Russell M. (February 23 1993). "Integrity of Heart". BYU Speeches. Retrieved 2008-02-18.  


External links

Religious titles
Preceded by
Neal A. Maxwell
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 12, 1984—
Succeeded by
Dallin H. Oaks


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