Dr. Nelson comes from a lineage of humanitarians and was particularly inspired by his grandfather, Olavi Rouhe, MD, who spent more than 20 years of his career as a surgeon in the Belgian Congo. “When I was eight years old, I saw my grandfather perform an operation in a rural African hospital which planted the first seeds for my career choice and aspirations for international service,” said Dr. Nelson. He followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and graduated from Loma Linda University—an institution focused on training health professionals to work in underserved countries around the world.
In 2004, the Nelson family sold their home and moved to the Dominican Republic where they lived for the next five years. Dr. Nelson worked full-time to provide charity orthopaedic care for the underserved and provide administrative leadership as the medical director of the Cure International children’s hospital. He also worked extensively in the neighboring country of Haiti.
When earthquakes devastated Haiti in January 2010, Dr. Nelson immediately mobilized his team to assist with relief efforts in Port au Prince. Within 48 hours of the disaster, he was on the ground performing his first operation and he ended up staying there for the next sixth months. Because of his organizational skills and full-time presence, many volunteer orthopaedic surgeons were able to effectively contribute orthopaedic care to those who sustained injuries in Haiti. These collaborative efforts have led to a quality orthopaedic program that continues to operate and host volunteer surgeons at Hôpital Adventiste d’Haiti.
Lewis G. Zirkle Jr., MD, president and founder of the Surgical Implant Generation Network (SIGN), attested to Dr. Nelson’s dedication and work in Haiti: “We each took an operating room and finished the 10 surgeries at 4 a.m. He told me he had a ‘nice soft bed’ after surgery. After the last case was finished, he lay down on the tile floor of a storage room. This was our soft bed for the next two hours until we proceeded to the next hospital that needed our services.”
Dr. Nelson and his family returned stateside in July 2010. He is full-time faculty at Loma Linda University with an academic practice. Dr. Nelson continues to make trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic on unpaid leaves of absence to provide charity orthopaedic care. He recruits orthopaedic residents, ancillary personnel and other surgeons to participate.
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