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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Cheryl J. Doty and her husband, Dr. Donald B. Doty, speak with Elder M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at the Legacy of Life Award ceremony at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 5, 2018. The Dotys were honored with a 2018 Legacy of Life Award.

SALT LAKE CITY — Dr. Donald Doty was ready to ease into retirement after a long career as a cardiac surgeon when the plan abruptly changed years ago.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called him and his wife Cheryl to oversee the health of the faith's missionaries worldwide — a post that at times took them to far reaches of the globe before their service wrapped up in 2013.

"The reason we took the job is because we were called to do it," Doty said in an interview aired Thursday at a gala honoring the couple.

"And we didn't know what we were getting into, either," his wife added.

Their nine years of service in the role drew praise Thursday as they received Intermountain Healthcare's Legacy of Life award. The honor is reserved for leaders in Utah who help people live as healthy as they can.

Under the Dotys' tenure, the number of mental health advisers grew, and more retired medical doctors began serving as area medical advisers, Intermountain said in a prepared statement.

The couple drew sustained applause from top LDS Church leaders, business executives, doctors and others who attended the dinner at the Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City.

"They deserve our deepest gratitude and highest praise for their devoted service to this profession, and to all of God’s children across the globe," LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson said in a video honoring the pair.

Doty reported to President Nelson while serving as chairman of the church's Missionary Department of Health Services. But he shares more than just his faith with President Nelson, who won the same award in 1993 and applauded the Dotys Thursday at the dinner.

The two are both retired heart surgeons who worked closely together at LDS Hospital in the 1980s.

President Nelson often stood just behind Doty's shoulder while Doty performed heart surgeries on several top LDS leaders, including former church President Howard W. Hunter, as well as two other apostles, Elder David B. Haight and Elder Robert D. Hales. President Nelson hovered so close that his head would almost graze Doty's ear, Doty recalled earlier this year, saying the close proximity was reassuring, and not nerve-wracking.

Doty told attendees Thursday that he still sees President Nelson as mentor more than three decades after he left the hospital to accept his calling as an apostle.

In part due to President Nelson's guidance and support from his wife, "I have learned that happiness and joy come from serving others," he said.

Cheryl Doty agreed. She was honored Thursday for helping to raise millions of dollars for medical research through her longtime work with LDS Hospital’s quilt auction. And she said her family's contributions were supported by a vast network of doctors, nurses and others.

"None of us serve alone when we serve," she said.

The Dotys' donations to Intermountain helped build a center in their name, which is used in part to train hospital employees and hold events for people in the community.

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Other LDS Church leaders in attendance included President Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency; President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who claimed the Intermountain award in 2008; plus Elder Ronald A. Rasband and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve.

The event that doubles as a fundraiser for heart and lung research also honored Greg Elliott, the chairman of medicine at Intermountain Medical Center who has worked with other doctors to significantly advance treatment of pulmonary hypertension, a disorder characterized by high blood pressure in the lungs.

Another award went to Rob Corcoran, a real estate executive who helped Intermountain to repurpose homes adjacent to LDS Hospital to house cancer patients, among other philanthropic endeavors.