Adventist Surgeon Helps Crippled Children Walk
Scott Nelson, grandson of missionary, trades practice for service
BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor
t’s not uncommon for Seventh-day Adventists to be involved in health-related work, nor is it unusual for today’s church members to follow in the footsteps of their parents or grandparents. But Scott Nelson, an orthopedic surgeon from California, is doing a couple of things differently in his quest to show Jesus’ love by serving others.
Nelson, a graduate of Adventist-owned Pacific Union College and Loma Linda University (LLU), is the medical director of CURE International’s hospital in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Though a Christian group, CURE is not an Adventist organization and Nelson has an opportunity to model his Christian faith along with his medical skills.
By going overseas, Nelson follows in the footsteps of his grandfather, Dr. Olavi Rouhe, a 1934 graduate of what was then the College of Medical Evangelists in Loma Linda, who served at the church’s Songa Mission in Zaire (then known as the Belgian Congo) for more than 25 years, returning there even in retirement.
“He built a hospital and church and a whole compound out there,” Nelson said of his grandfather. “I visited the Songa mission at the age 8. And when I decided to go into medicine, I had this in the back of my mind.”
The Nelson family has been in Santo Domingo for nearly three years of a five-year commitment, having left their home, Scott’s medical practice, and the comforts of life in San Diego, California, to work among people for whom grinding poverty is a way of life.
HAND OF HOPE: Dr. Scott Nelson, a Seventh-day Adventist who is an orthopedic surgeon, holds a clubfoot victim at teh CURE International Hospital in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Nelson is in the midst of a five-year commitment to serve in the island nation. [Photo: CURE International]
“There’s a real big need for (medical missionary service) right now,” Nelson said. “Christ has asked us to do more than ‘giving in our excess.’ In the end, it’s given us a lot of freedom that we didn’t have before coming here to do this kind of work.”
CURE, based in Pennsylvania, is an organization seeking to combat diseases that often destroy lives and families in the developing world, but that are treatable with modern medicine in the Western World. Nelson’s expertise as an orthopedist, for example, is used to correct cases of “club foot,” a birth defect.
CURE also emphasizes their teaching hospitals, through which they train local medical professionals and students in first-world medical techniques with the goal of raising the standard of medical care in the countries it serves.
““CURE is privileged to have Scott share our vision and commitment to children,” said Dr. Scott Harrison, president and CEO of CURE International, who founded the organization with his wife, Sally, in 1996. Harrison praised Nelson as “a highly-skilled surgeon and teacher who is bringing hope and healing to many young patients in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.”
A spiritual director, executive director, and medical director lead each of the eight CURE hospitals around the world. As the medical director of the hospital in Santo Domingo, Nelson has administrative responsibilities, clinical teaching of orthopedic residents, and a full-time surgical practice that mostly serves children with developmental, congenital, and post-traumatic deformities and disabilities.
“It was a very good fit for my training and education at LLU,” Nelson told a Adventist Review in a telephone interview from Santo Domingo. “It’s difficult to find a place [such as this] in the developing world. There is a lot of need for children’s orthopedics; trauma and children’s [orthopedics] are great needs in the developing world.”
The plague of clubfoot, where the foot is so deformed that shoes can’t be worn, is an example of this need. The problem is rarely seen in the United States, Nelson said, where it can be caught and treated in infancy. In the Dominican Republic – as well as neighboring Haiti, where Nelson makes a quarterly surgical visit – it’s a different story.
“Unless it’s taken care of properly, [victims are] discriminated against from the time they start a school, and throughout life,” Nelson explained. “They usually can walk, but they start having pain at an early age, and they can’t wear shoes. I saw a woman, age 32, who couldn’t wear shoes; her feet are all turned in.”
Someone in that condition, he said, was “not a person you’d hire, and they suffer psychologically and physically. In recent years, there’s been resurgence of non-operative treatments; and CURE is on the forefront of organizing efforts” to treat the condition.
“I think for me it’s been a spiritual and religious experience moving down here. We’ve gone deeper into our relationship with God and ourselves,” Nelson added. “We’re operating with Christians and non-Christians, and it’s a rich experience interacting with all these people.”
Nelson and his family attend a Seventh-day Adventist Church in Santo Domingo, and says “we have a church family there, too.”
--With information from Lainey S. Cronk, Pacific Union College