West Lebanon, NH: The Hand of the Lord Manifest in Joseph Smith’s Leg Surgery

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“At one time eleven Doctors came from the Dartmouth Medical college, at Hanover New Hampshire, for the purpose of amputation, but, young as I was, I utterly refused to give my assent to the operation, but I consented to their Trying an experiment by removing a large portion great of the bone from my left leg, which they did.”
Joseph Smith Papers, (History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834]; Addenda, Note A • 1805–1820). http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/history-1838-1856-volume-a-1-23-december-1805-30-august-1834?p=137 (accessed 9/22/2014).


Abstract

In West Lebanon, New Hampshire, Dr. Nathan Smith of nearby Dartmouth Medical College performed ground-breaking surgery on the young Joseph Smith. Dr. LeRoy S. Wirthlin, MD, documents the details of the surgery, displays, and explains medical instruments used in the early nineteenth century. Original medical saddle bags and instruments belonging to Dr. Nathan Smith are also shown. The hand of the Lord is acknowledged in Dr. Smith’s innovative surgical procedure to save the infected leg and the recent move and resulting proximity of the Smith family to Dartmouth Medical College.


Video Transcript

Interesting Facts

• The combination of drilling and removing bony fragments as treatment for osteomyelitis was suggested in the late 1800s and was finally standardized following the First World War surgical experience. It is most curious that young Joseph would receive such treatment in the early 1800s in a remote area of New Hampshire. It should be of interest to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to learn that Dr. Nathan Smith was the only physician in the United States at the time who had the vision, knowledge, and necessary surgical experience to deal successfully with Joseph Smith’s medical problems. (LeRoy S. Wirthlin, “Nathan Smith (1762–1828) Surgical Consultant to Joseph Smith,” Brigham Young University Studies 17 (Spring 1977): 319–20.)

• Following a successful operation, Joseph began to recover and his parents sent him 130 miles away to live in Salem, Massachusetts, with his uncle, Jesse Smith, hoping the sea breezes might benefit his health. Soon afterwards the family returned to Vermont, living in the village of Norwich a mere nine miles northwest of Lebanon, New Hampshire, across the Connecticut River.

• Joseph was still using crutches when his family moved to Palmyra, NY… Mr. Howard’s mistreatment

• Nathan Smith singlehandedly founded the Medical School at Dartmouth

• Nathan Smith was 50-51 years old at time that he operated on the young Joseph Smith

• Hyrum Smith’s “classmates at Dartmouth included five of the children of Dr. Nathan Smith, who came to the Smith home with a team of surgeons and saved Joseph’s leg with the novel procedure of opening the bone to allow the pus to drain. Dr. Smith then visited Joseph eighteen times in twenty days. Shortly thereafter, he established the medical school at Yale.” (P. Douglas Kiester, “The ‘Uneducated’ Prophet,” Book of Mormon Archaeological Forum Research Newsletter, January 17, 2011) http://bmaforg.blogspot.com/2011/01/uneducated-prophet-by-p-douglas-kiester.html (accessed 9/24/2014)
• The Prophet Joseph Smith mentioned that there were a team of eleven doctors that attended him in his surgery. “The majority of the eleven ‘doctors’ would have been medical students at Dartmouth as there were only two doctors on the staff at the time, Dr. Nathan Smith and Dr. Cyrus Perkins.” (LeRoy S, Wirthlin, “Nathan Smith (1762-1828) Surgical Consultant to Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies, Spring 1977, Vol. 17, No. 3, 320.)

• The Prophet Joseph Smith mentioned that there were a team of eleven doctors that attended him in his surgery. “The majority of the eleven ‘doctors’ would have been medical students at Dartmouth as there were only two doctors on the staff at the time, Dr. Nathan Smith and Dr. Cyrus Perkins.” (LeRoy S, Wirthlin, “Nathan Smith (1762-1828) Surgical Consultant to Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies, Spring 1977, Vol. 17, No. 3, 320.)