Fortunate Enough to Give Back

The many research opportunities in the College of Life Sciences would not be possible without generous donors. And while their generosity is remarkable, their life stories are even more so.

By Adam McLain

Doug and Joy Heiner approaching their weddingDoug and Joy Heiner in March 2012
Left: Doug and Joy Heiner approaching their wedding / Right: Doug and Joy Heiner in March 2012

Douglas C. Heiner never attended BYU, but he gives to it generously. Even though he was never a Cougar, he has shown the traits of a true blue Cougar throughout his life, having lived the motto “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.”

“You never know what’s going to happen if you take advantage of the time you have and try to help people a little bit that need it,” Heiner said, reflecting on his opportunities throughout life. Having traveled around the world, taught and researched at many respected universities, and raised a wonderful family, Heiner has lived a life of helping people, making the best of his eighty-nine years of life.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Heiner attended South High School where he actively participated in sports. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Navy V12 program (which has since been discontinued) and went to officer training in Pocatello, Idaho. The Navy allowed the recruits to train as officers and attend the local college. Heiner attended and then graduated from the southern branch of the University of Idaho, now known as Idaho State University, in 1946 with highest honors. That same year he married his high school sweetheart and the love of his life, Joy Luana Wiest.

Heiner family in sunday dress
Heiner family in sunday dress

Heiner met Wiest when he was a senior at South High School. He played on the tennis team, and during practice one day he noticed that some girls, who were also practicing, kept hitting their ball into his court. As he returned the ball, he noticed that “one of the girls had a particularly sweet smile and sparkle in the eyes.” After introducing himself to her, he called her up and asked her on a date. Though he then went off and joined the Navy, Heiner ended up marrying the girl with the sparkle. Heiner and Wiest were married for almost seventy years before she passed away in 2013.

While in Pocatello, Heiner decided to become a doctor. No one in his family had become a doctor yet, so Heiner felt it might be a good route for him. While Heiner was still deciding, he went to shadow a doctor who was treating a patient with abdominal pain. When the doctor took the intestines out of the patient and put them on the sterilized table for examination, Heiner became dizzy. “I had no idea how I would react. I had never seen anything like that. I thought, well, I don’t know how I am going to do with medicine,” Heiner said of the experience. “But that’s the only time I had a problem with anything.” He went on to do quite well in medicine.

After Heiner graduated, the Navy sent him from Idaho to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. When the Heiners had their first child, the dean of the school of medicine called Heiner into his office. Heiner remembers the dean telling him, “Mr. Heiner, I don’t know if you know it or not but this is a difficult medical school and we discourage anyone from having children here. You are going to have to really study hard or you’re going to flunk out.” Heiner and his wife would have another child while attending medical school, with Heiner ultimately graduating with honors.

Doug Heiner in his laboratory at Habor-UCLA Medical Center, accompanied by professors from Seoul National University (in black suits) and research trainees from South Korea, South America, and the Middle East.
Doug Heiner in his laboratory at Habor-UCLA Medical Center, accompanied by professors from Seoul National University (in black suits) and research trainees from South Korea, South America, and the Middle East.

The Navy next sent Heiner and his family to Maryland, where Heiner served as a medical officer. During his time there, he had a group of trainees under his watch. The group got food poisoning. Heiner tracked the poisoning to two choices of meat, ultimately finding and disposing of the contaminated ham. He wrote up a report on the incident and delivered it to his superiors. Heiner’s report impressed his supervisors in the Navy because it was polished, clear, and in-depth. Heiner’s superior explained that the Navy had never seen a report that detailed the simple exploits of food poisoning with such integrity. Because of this report, Heiner was offered a station in Europe, which he turned down after counseling with his wife.

The Navy needed Heiner’s ingenuity and integrity, though, and he was given orders to join the front lines as a preventive medical doctor during the Korean War. In Korea, Heiner worked with local doctors, training and teaching them. The Navy assigned him to be a liaison doctor. When he arrived in a town or military post, Heiner would first visit the Korean hospital and speak with the Korean doctors and soldiers before working with the American soldiers.

During his tour in Korea, Heiner traveled to Seoul once or twice a month. On the way to Seoul, he would stop by a civilian hospital in Pocheon to visit a pediatrician who practiced there. He developed a close friendship with two physicians that worked there during his visits working with the children. “I was delighted to have that experience,” Heiner said.

After Korea, Heiner interned at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. During Heiner’s last year, the head of pediatrics asked him if he knew of any Korean doctors who could compete and do well in the rigorous training program at the hospital. Heiner immediately thought of one of the doctors at the Pocheon hospital. He contacted that doctor, who expressed fear about studying in the United States since he didn’t speak English well. Heiner told him, “It doesn’t matter . . . what you know is more important than how well you speak.”

The Heiners on their mission in Russia, accompanied by Elder Sefcik (back center) with Timor (front left) and Sandra Gurova (front right). Timor and Sandra were baptized and are faithful members.
The Heiners on their mission in Russia, accompanied by Elder Sefcik (back center) with Timor (front left) and Sandra Gurova (front right). Timor and Sandra were baptized and are faithful members.

“This experience that I had . . . was something that made me feel like I wanted to help people that had some need while they were in training,” Heiner said. Motivated by helping this man, Heiner helped many doctors from other countries gain the training they needed. While he was a professor at UCLA, Heiner had eleven Korean doctors come and work with him. “I liked to teach people who were from foreign countries, especially if they had the desire to go back to their country,” Heiner said. Half of those Korean doctors returned to Korea to care for the people there.

Heiner traveled extensively during his professional career. He went from Boston to Harvard to Arkansas to the University of Utah, teaching and practicing medicine all along the way. He received a Ph.D. in immunochemistry in Montreal, Canada, and then settled down as a professor of pediatrics at the University of California—Los Angeles. During his time there, he took a fellowship in Switzerland, becoming a visiting professor for a year and gaining more international experience. Speaking of his professional career, he said, “I got hooked into research . . . I liked doing new things that hadn’t been done before.”

Heiner’s wife was a constant support in his life and was a true partner. She kept the family frugal; she never asked Heiner to buy her anything expensive and always invested their money wisely. Because of this, Heiner now has enough to live on, as well as to give to his family, and some to give to research and scholarships.

“I like to donate scholarships to people that are promising students,” Heiner said when asked about why he donated money to BYU. His nine children attended BYU and he loves the school, its research, and its sport teams (particularly basketball and tennis). Because of his international experience, he said he prefers to give scholarships to students “from developing countries, especially those that want to go back” to their countries. In addition to BYU, Heiner donates to other colleges and programs such as the University of Utah, UCLA, and more.

“I think I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had many opportunities and I’ve tried my best to pick out opportunities that I enjoyed and I’ve worked hard to make those opportunities meaningful,” Heiner said. “I think the Lord has been very nice to me in many, many different ways. I just feel like I’ve been so fortunate that I need to give back a little bit.”