University of Utah School of Medicine Honors Russell M. Nelson

University of Utah School of Medicine Honors Russell M. Nelson

School creates Dr. Russell M. Nelson and Dantzel W. Nelson Presidential Endowed Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery

News Release

President Russell M. Nelson’s days as a pioneering heart surgeon may be more than three decades in the past, but an announcement Friday evening shows his work continues to have enduring effects.

At a dinner on Temple Square, the University of Utah announced it has established the Dr. Russell M. Nelson and Dantzel W. Nelson Presidential Endowed Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery. President Nelson is a University of Utah alumnus and was a practicing heart surgeon until he was called to full-time Church service in 1984. Dantzel, his first wife, who passed away in 2005 and is the mother of the couple’s 10 children, was influential in President Nelson’s pursuit of open-heart surgery. President Nelson has said she gave him invaluable support and encouragement during his career and helped him develop a heart and lung machine small enough to function in an operating room.

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President Nelson said Friday evening was nostalgic for him. He described how he and Dantzel created the heart and lung machine, told what it was like to perform Utah’s first open-heart surgery in 1955 and spoke fondly of his experience leading the university’s thoracic surgery training program for 17 years. The future of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Utah is bright, he said.

“I am confident that the continuing work and research at the University of Utah will bring credit to this great institution,” said President Nelson, who completed more than 7,000 surgeries throughout his career. “We have a new [university] president, Mrs. Ruth V. Watkins, and we have a great department chairman in surgery, Samuel Finlayson, and we have a wonderful leader in charge of the cardiothoracic program, Dr. Craig Selzman. They and their associates will continue to get new information, their research will be applied to the clinical challenges, and they will continue to add luster to the great record of the University of Utah, its medical school and the department of surgery in particular.”

The recipient of the endowed chair is Craig H. Selzman, a heart surgery professor in the University of Utah’s School of Medicine since 2008.

"In accepting this chair, it is clear to me and probably many that know me that there's no way I am worthy of this honor,” said Dr. Selzman. “That said, I do believe that our division as a whole is worthy of this. We are worthy of taking this name, living up to this name, maintaining this name and driving forth the legacy of this name. Forever moving forward, the values and principles of Dr. Nelson will be ingrained in all of those that join our division, that live in our division, work for our department and work for our university.”

President Watkins said the endowed chair “will honor President Nelson’s role as an educator for the future, influencing generations of scholars and students.” She also described the value of an endowed chair for a university, saying it “provides an incredible way for us to attract talented faculty and keep those faculty with us, as well as to recognize excellence among us. Endowed chairs connect our university with our donors and our community and our highly distinguished faculty members.”

Prior to his call as an apostle in 1984, President Nelson was a research professor of surgery and director of the Thoracic Surgery Residency at the University of Utah and chairman of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. He is the author of numerous publications and chapters in medical textbooks. He lectured and visited professionally throughout the United States and in many other nations.

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