April 29, 2024

Joseph Smith's Leg Surgery, what you didn't know.

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Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have heard about the leg operation of Joseph Smith, from when he was a young boy. Many times when telling this accounts some of the most fascinating information, has been left out. The leg surgery of Joseph Smith was very impactful to the young Joseph and his whole family. There were many things that had to line up perfectly for the surgery to work, and for the life of Joseph to be saved. We know the Lord had a very important mission for the prophet Joseph Smith and his life was spared for that purpose. This miraculous leg operation shows that Gods plan is perfect, and the pieces are put in to place well before the need arises.

In the year 1813, a Thyphoid Fever epidemic spread throughout the city where Joseph Smith and his family lived, in west Lebanon, New Hampshire. Joseph Smith was only about seven years old during this trying time of his life. The Joseph Smith Sr. family suffered greatly from the epidemic, Thypoid Fever made its way through the whole Smith family. The hardest hit in the family were Joseph Smith Jr. and his sister Sophronia. Sophronia almost died from the sickness.

Joseph recovered from the sickness but then developed swelling under his left arm. He was seen by a Doctor, Dr. Parkhurst, on more than one occasion, trying to get help. In one account the Doctor opened up the arm of Joseph Smith and drained out a quart of puss! When the puss was drained Joseph recorded that he felt immediate pain in his left tibia or his shinbone. The bacteria from the abscess spread through the blood stream to the left tibia. Joseph Smith was sick for several weeks from this new problem, and in so much pain.

Joseph developed Osteomyelitis. Osteomyelitis is a serious bone infection, often treated with amputation and can cause death. Joseph was in terrible pain from the Osteomyelitis. The Smith family was desperate to find help for their little son and called a Doctor, named Dr. Stone. Dr. Stone made two incisions on the leg, hoping to release the swelling, but it did nothing to cure the Osteomyelitis. Dr. Stone told the Smiths he could do no more to help Joseph, and he recommended amputation. Lucy Mack Smith felt that there could be more done to help her little seven year old boy and got a second opinion. This is when Dr. Nathan Smith was called to council over what could be done for young Joseph's leg.

This is when the first miraculous coincidence occurred. The Smith family lived in the same town to Nathan Smith a doctor and surgeon. Nathan Smith was the only man in the world, at the time, who could successfully remove the infection in Joseph Smiths leg, without removing the whole leg. Without Nathan Smith, Joseph would have lost his leg and maybe even his life.

Hyrum Smith was attending school at Dartmouth and this could have been how the Smith knew to call on the doctor.

Not only is it a miracle that Nathan Smith was a neighbor with Joseph, but that he was home, in New Hampshire, when the surgery was necessary. Nathan Smith traveled a lot, and had agreed to start a new school in Connecticut, but happened to be home when this surgery became necessary.

The Smith family felt that Nathan Smith gave Joseph the best chance at keeping his leg, and agreed to he surgery. The operation was agonizing, and terrible. Dealing with the live bone is what hurt the most, compared to a dentist dealing with nerves, and no anesthesia. When the surgery was over the surgeons left the wound open and 14 pieces of bone made their way out of the incision. Joseph was so weak and frail after the operation. Joseph even recorded his mother "was able to carry him about with ease". Joseph was on crutches for three years. All the pain and trouble was worth it in the end when Josephs wound healed and was able to keep both his legs, it was a medical marvel, for the time. Joseph did walk with a slight limp for the rest of his life.

The miraculous surgery performed by Nathan Smith did not catch on to the rest of the medical world. It seemed that nobody was able to do the surgery, even with the teaching and help of Nathan Smith. There are records of some students of Nathan Smith attempting the surgery, but none of the doctors were able to complete the surgery successfully, and ultimately the surgery was discontinued. Amputation continued to be the treatment, even into the Civil War, fifty years later. It wasn't until the first World War in 1914, almost one hundred years after Joseph Smith's surgery, when surgeons again attempted the surgery, and were able to have success.

Nathan Smith was an excellent doctor who went on to established medical schools at Yale, the University of Vermont at Bowdoin, and also Dartmouth Medical College at Hanover. At this time in the United States there was very little medical education, only three schools were started before Nathan Smith started his medical schools. There were not state boards, medical boards or licensing. In New England there was not one single hospital in 1810.

The story of Joseph Smith's leg surgery can be looked at as a series of amazing coincidences. Although, even to a sceptic it should seem pretty spectacular. The miracle that Joseph Smith lived in the same area as the only doctor in the whole world who could save his leg is truly amazing. For Dr. Smith to be home, instead of traveling, when the emergency surgery was needed is another miracle. For the surgery to be successful is another miracle, when it was not a common practice for another hundred years! It is truly miraculous! This experience was so impactful for Joseph Smith and the rest of his family because their prayers were answered. The Smith Family knew Joseph's life was spared and felt watched over.



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