President Russell M. Nelson called as 17th president of LDS Church

Thirty-four years ago, President Russell M. Nelson set aside his career as a world-renowned heart surgeon for what, t...

Posted: Jan 16, 2018 7:29 PM
Updated: Jan 16, 2018 7:29 PM

Thirty-four years ago, President Russell M. Nelson set aside his career as a world-renowned heart surgeon for what, to him, was the higher calling of apostolic ministry.

On Tuesday, he was called as the 17th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to church officials.

President Dallin H. Oaks was called as the first counselor in the First Presidency and President Henry B. Eyring was called as the second counselor.

President Nelson, 93, will succeed former LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson, who died Jan. 2 after serving for nearly a decade as the leader of the LDS Church.

The man, now known to LDS faithful as their prophet, often blended the spiritual with his career in medicine, recounting experiences of miraculous healing he witnessed during his time in the church and as a medical professional.

During a visit to Mexico with a group of fellow physicians in 1978, one of President Nelson's colleagues became seriously ill, suffering severe internal bleeding in his stomach. Though all in the group were trained doctors, none had the equipment necessary to help the man; all watched, helpless as he suffered, according to a biography of President Nelson published on the church's website, LDS.org.

"All the combined knowledge and concern there could not be converted to action to help our friend as we saw his life ebbing before our eyes. We were powerless to stop his bleeding," President Nelson said.

Eventually, the man asked for a blessing of healing, which Latter-day Saints believe is possible through faith and power from God. President Nelson administered a blessing to the ailing man and later said "the Spirit dictated that the bleeding would stop, and that the man would continue to live and return to his home and profession."

The man soon found himself fully recovered and back with his family. President Nelson was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church six years later.

The heart surgeon was 60 when he accepted a lifelong calling as an apostle - one of the men in church leadership who LDS faithful believe serve as special witnesses of Jesus Christ. President Nelson was called as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after the passing of President Boyd K. Packer in 2015.

Born in Salt Lake City in 1924, President Nelson received a Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine from the University of Utah before serving for two years in the U.S. Army on medical duty during the Korean War, according to his biography.

When he returned from the military, he completed his surgery residency rotations at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and the University of Minnesota, where he received his Ph.D.

During his schooling, President Nelson met and married Dantzel White, and the couple had 10 children together. President Nelson's wife and children said he made it a priority to be with them, though he was often busy.

"Once President Harold B. Lee asked Sister (Dantzel) Nelson how it felt to be the wife of such a busy man," according to one biography. "Her reply, which President Lee quoted many times afterward, was 'When he's home, he's home.'"

And as a family man and busy doctor, President Nelson also made it a priority to focus on emulating Jesus Christ and his healing power.

He helped develop the first heart-lung machine, making open-heart surgery possible by maintaining blood circulation. Early in his career, he and his wife Dantzel discovered a way to better oxygenate a patient's blood during surgery.

In 1972, he operated on then-Elder Spencer W. Kimball, an LDS apostle who would later become president of the LDS Church.

Through his career, he was fascinated by what he saw as God's laws "that govern the function of the body," he told young adult members of the church in a 2017 address. As he researched, he discovered how these laws worked in connection with the heart's function.

But despite his own medical accomplishments, President Nelson maintains that true healing power comes from Jesus Christ.

"I marvel at his matchless power to heal. I testify of Jesus Christ as the master healer. It is but one of many attributes that characterize his incomparable life," President Nelson said during a 2005 address to the church.

Prior to and during his calling as an apostle, President Nelson served on several councils, which provided him with varied experiences that have served him well throughout his ministry.

Under LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson, he also worked to open doors to missionaries in the Eastern European nations, visiting 31 countries in Europe in 27 trips made over 5 years.

In his most recent address to members of the LDS Church, President Nelson spoke of the Book of Mormon - a book of scripture members of the faith believe to be an account of Christ's ministry in the Americas. He challenged members to think about their lives without the Book of Mormon, what they would not know or have.

In response to a challenge from President Monson, he said he studied the book, and typifying his meticulous nature, made lists of what the book is, affirms, fulfills, clarifies, refutes and reveals.

"When I think of the Book of Mormon, I think of the word power. The truths of the Book of Mormon have the power to heal, comfort, restore, succor, strengthen, console and cheer our souls," he said in his address.

After the death of his first wife in 2005, President Nelson married Wendy L. Watson in 2006. Watson previously worked as a marriage and family therapy professor at BYU and is often seen accompanying her husband on church assignments.

President Nelson is expected to serve as president of the church until his death.

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