As a liver surgeon at one of the nation’s top hospitals, Dr. Nicholas Nissen spends his day fixing problems.

But 37 years ago, when Nissen was a Life Scout, he had his own problem in need of fixing. Nissen hadn’t yet completed his Eagle Scout requirements when his northern Minnesota troop folded just a few months before his 18th birthday.

Nissen remained calm and proceeded with scalpel-like precision. He registered with the nearest troop, even though the nearest troop was in Minneapolis — some 100 miles south. He recruited friends and former troopmates to help with his Eagle project: building a barbecue and picnic area at a city park in Askov, Minn.

Nissen has shown that same determination to his patients over a 28-year medical career. He’s now the surgical director of liver transplants at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a top 10-ranked hospital by U.S. News & World Report.

A Distinguished Eagle

In recognition of his contributions in medicine, Nissen has received the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award, the highest honor presented by the National Eagle Scout Association.

The award honors Eagle Scouts who have made major contributions in their professional fields. NESA accepts nominees once 25 years have passed since earning Eagle.

“In many ways, Scouting gave me my start,” Nissen said in a news release. “I wouldn’t be who I am or have done what I have done without the Boy Scouts.”

Dr. Andrew Klein, director of Cedars-Sinai’s Comprehensive Transplant Center, says Nissen is an ideal candidate for the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award.

“They couldn’t have made a better choice,” Klein says. “He makes a difference in peoples’ lives every day, but he doesn’t stick around for the compliments because he’s off to operate on the next patient, fix the next problem.”

Elite company

Just over 2,200 Distinguished Eagle Scout Awards have been presented since 1969 — fewer than 50 per year.

As a Distinguished Eagle Scout, Nissen joins a list of DESA recipients that includes Eagle Scouts in the fields of politics (President Gerald Ford), business (former CEO of KOA Jim Rogers) entertainment (animator William Hanna of Hanna-Barbera) and sports (Pro Football Hall of Famer Tom Mack).

Matthew Thornton, Scout Executive of the Western Los Angeles County Council, says Nissen belongs in that elite company.

“It doesn’t surprise me when I hear of Dr. Nissen going out of his way to help others,” Thornton says. “He’s somebody you can always count on to make the world a little bit better.”

Nissen received the award at a special ceremony hosted by the Western Los Angeles County Council. Nissen was joined by his wife, Kathy Magliato, and their two sons. Both boys — 15-year-old Nicholas and 13-year-old Gabriel — are on their own path to Eagle.

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