Utah honors Mormon President Russell Nelson, a former heart surgeon, with its highest science award for lifetime achievement in medicine

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson speaks at the beginning of the Sunday morning session of General Conference on April 1, 2018.

LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson is now known mostly for seeking spiritual healing of hearts, but Monday he won Utah’s highest civilian scientific award for a lifetime of earlier work as an innovative surgeon who physically healed hearts.

Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) announced Nelson as the winner of a lifetime achievement award as part of the annual Governor’s Medals for Science and Technology.

He joins such past recipients as Nobel-winning geneticist Mario Capecchi, WordPerfect founder Alan Ashton and James LeVoy Sorenson, founder of the Sorenson medical research and supply companies.

Nelson is scheduled to receive the award June 6 at the Utah Technology Innovation Summit.

“These medal recipients are defined by their tireless passion and service to promoting science, technology and innovation here in Utah,” Herbert said about Nelson and other winners.

USTAR Executive Director Ivy Estabrooke said, “These winners are true leaders in science and technology that have played a prominent role in Utah’s thriving innovation ecosystem.”

A news release from the state said Nelson “is an internationally renowned surgeon and medical researcher whose groundbreaking work continues to play a vital role in modern cardiac surgery practices.”

It noted that, in 1951, he was a member of a research team that performed the first open heart surgery that used outside-of-the-body circulation, developing the first modern heart-lung bypass machine in the process.

In 1955, he performed the first open-heart surgery in Utah — and the first west of the Mississippi — and went on to perform more than 7,000 operations in his career until he was named a full-time apostle for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1984.

He became president of global Mormonism in January.

Nelson once served as director of the University of Utah Thoracic Surgery Program, president of the Utah Medical Association, director of the American Board of Thoracic Surgery and president of the Society for Vascular Surgery.

He also wrote for numerous medical publications and lectured and taught around the world.

To select Utah medal winners, a panel of industry experts and educators review nominations and make recommendations to the governor.

Three other winners of science an technology medals were also announced Monday:

• A medal for academic work and research went to Dana Carroll, a distinguished professor of biochemistry at the U., for his work in precise genome engineering.

• A medal for kindergarten to grade 12 education went to Tyson Grover, the science curriculum adviser for Davis School District.

• A medal for industry went to George Hansen, chief technology officer and co-founder of Conductive Composites.