Denver native Dan Smith ’62 knew he had an interest in medicine from an early age. When he was in high school, he had the chance to see an appendectomy performed by a friend’s father. He was hooked. Now, where to go to prepare?
“I think it was God’s providence that I wound up at Calvin,” Smith said. “At that time, I needed a little more time to figure out who I was. Calvin helped me stay grounded in my faith.”
Smith went back to Colorado for medical school and then interned at the Naval Medical Center San Diego. He was eventually deployed to Okinawa and while based there flew in and out of Vietnam for medical assignments.
The experience piqued an interest in Southeast Asia—a connection that would come back his way years later and change his life.
Smith did residencies in Denver and San Francisco and then established himself as a respected cardiothoracic surgeon in his hometown.
Some 20 years later, a series of experiences put an abrupt halt to his successful career.
“I went on a trip to Israel on the 3,000-year anniversary of Jerusalem, and the sights and sounds changed my biblical perspective,” he said. “Then, I was enthralled with three audio tapes from the producer of the famous Jesus film; a quote, ‘Only what is done in the name of Christ will last,’ ran straight through my heart. And finally, I became totally dysfunctional in my work and had to stay away from surgery for a number of months.”
After a sabbatical and doing surgeries again, Smith turned his attention to medical missions. A trip to Macedonia fell through and another to India did not show him a way to continue there.
Instead, through meeting a Cambodian man studying at Denver Seminary who came to a doctor’s Bible study, Smith agreed to visit Cambodia to assess the medical conditions there.
“I’m a cardiac surgeon and this is a country that needs the basics,” said Smith. “But I understand what’s needed for medicine, and I decided I could certainly recruit and organize medical teams.”
And so Smith’s attachment to Cambodia began in 2000. Since then he’s been to the country more than 20 times. Now semi-retired, he makes sure that between four and six teams reach Cambodia every year.
“In the U.S., I always prayed before my cases and observed God’s goodness,” he said. “In Cambodia, I’ve seen God do out-and-out miracles.”
Besides organizing U.S. medical teams to serve in Cambodia, Smith and his colleagues also work with medical students in the country to advance knowledge and techniques.
He also helps some patients get to the U.S. for treatment when necessary and was particularly blessed by a Cambodian doctor who accompanied a young patient. The doctor was brought to Christian faith through the experience.
“Sometimes God really wants to get your attention,” Smith said. “He stopped me dead in my tracks like Paul on the road to Damascus.”
Smith often reflects on his “Damascus Road” experience and uses it as motivation to not only assist Cambodians medically but also to talk about the saving grace of Jesus.
“If I can give someone eternity, that’s better,” he added. “The medical part is easier.”