Life Is Just A Blast

By Elizabeth Barton

Reflections from Life Science's Alumni Achievement Award recipient Daniel Orr II

Skiing

Fifteen minutes late to his first class at Brigham Young University (BYU) and Daniel L. Orr II thought his Book of Mormon professor would hate him forever. A new convert from California, Orr was surprised when his professor didn’t mind he was late. “He was so nice to me and the class moved on,” Orr recalls. “The kindness of a lot of people at BYU was just impressive to me—their concern was evident. I was kind of a weird bird up there, you know.”

For Orr, BYU was a steep cultural learning curve. He admits that, at times, it was almost overwhelming. But, “I hung in there because I’m a finisher,” he says. “And thank heavens I did.”

Fast forward to 2016 and Orr—this year’s recipient of the Alumni Achievement Award from the College of Life Sciences—recognizes the enhancing effects of religion on secular education. BYU prepared him for dental school and, ultimately, a successful career in oral and maxillofacial surgery, but it was also at BYU that he first started to feel the Spirit. He calls his teenage conversion an “intellectual conversion,” because to him, eternal families and clean lifestyle choices made sense. “Why couldn’t God talk to somebody if he wanted?” Orr asks. But his spiritual conversion: “That really started at BYU.”

In Orr’s dental niche, trauma is the name of the game. He says prayer and spiritual impressions have helped him during difficult surgeries and have made the difference between life and death. His career, Orr says, helps him to stay grateful. After all, it could be him lying there with his face caved in. “Every breath you take is a blessing, and I’ve seen that literally in front of me. Every breath that patient takes is a blessing, because they’re going to be around a little longer and maybe you can do something to fix [the injury].”

Second? His career helps him to stay humble. “I might be doing a surgery I’ve done literally thousands of times, but everybody’s a little bit different and there’s always something new that could go wrong.” Decades of experience later and Orr still acknowledges his fallibility and the need for constant engagement in his dental and medical practice.

Daniel Orr

It’s clear to anyone who talks to Orr that he absolutely loves what he does. In fact, he knew he wanted to go to dental school in the 8th grade and exhibits a contagious enthusiasm the average 20-something lacks. As he is father to nine children, it seems unlikely Orr could possibly have any free time. With six degrees (B.S., D.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., J.D., M.D.), Orr’s also done his fair share of studying. That said, it wasn’t until after dental school that he realized he loved the classroom and that, as members of the Church, we are commanded to pursue education. These additional degrees have expanded his career, but everything he does is based on the platform of dentistry. “Once I got that credential,” he explains, “everything else (i.e. anesthesiology, law, teaching, etc.) was just kind of frosting it. But it’s all fun and it’s all the real deal. I’ve been so lucky to learn all of this. I’ve just kept learning, learning, learning, and if the opportunity comes along to somehow formalize that education with a degree or something, I take advantage of it.”

As much as he likes to learn from those whom he calls “advisors of merit,” Orr is also keen on sharing his knowledge with students in a myriad of capacities. To punctuate his own dental and medical practice in Las Vegas, Nevada, Orr teaches at University of Nevada, Las Vegas’s medical and dental schools. He’s also in his 17th year of teaching early-morning seminary. Though he admits that waking before sunrise can be exhausting, it seems Orr treasures this vocation just as much as his other duties, saying that he came to recognize after his time at BYU that “all knowledge is spiritual and religious knowledge” and that “spiritual knowledge is the basis for everything.” The secular and religious enhance each other, but the spiritual illuminates all truth and serves as an indispensable foundation for human and divine knowledge. “It took me a few decades to figure all of that out,” says Orr.

Can education really be Orr’s choice form of relaxation? Apparently. On top of coaching his children’s sports teams, Orr likes to stretch his mind in unexpected ways. “I got a new book this week,” he notes. “Wind in the Willows in Latin, so I’m going to get around to reading that in Latin. I have Harry Potter in Latin, Alice & Wonderland. . . . So I like to do that once and a while, but it’s hard to justify reading that stuff in Latin when I’ve got the gospel to read and I’m getting ready for seminary and need to go through the scriptures again.”

No doubt about it, Dr. Daniel Orr is glad to be alive. He’s also glad to share the gift of life with his patients, to teach, and to aid in the healing of temporal bodies. He may be busy, but he likes it that way. “The Lord facilitates things for you,” he says. “He doesn’t give you all of your life’s traumas on one day. He spaces them out so you can deal with them and learn from them.” With thousands of surgeries and plenty of life experience under his belt, Orr knows there’s still plenty for him to learn. As it stands, the world is still his oyster. “I look for new adventures every day and a lot of times, I find them. Life is just a blast.”