About US

My wife and I have a deep appreciation of how lucky our family is to have been born in the developed world and have all of the opportunities we have been blessed with.  A good part of why we chose medical careers was because it is a form of service as well as an occupation.

We have served in the developing world on multiple short-term medical missions involving cleft palate, burn surgery, and cervical cancer prevention and treatment As we became more involved in this work, we were moved by the thought that any one of these mothers and fathers with a cleft baby or a daughter dying from with a preventable cancer, could be us!! Through nothing more than the random-good-fortune, of birthplace and time, we happen to live in a world where we are spared these completely avoidable personal tragedies.

In my small mind, I thought ‘Thank God there are dedicated, good organizations like Mercy Ships out there that make it possible for me to do short term volunteer work so I can use my unique skills help in some small way!’

Last spring, I had just returned form Freetown, Sierra Leone after spending two weeks providing anesthesia services on the hospital ship Africa Mercy. I was sitting at the kitchen table in a deep state of blissful self-admiration, when Elise and Rhys (my middle and little ones) exploded into the room loudly fighting, being generally annoying, and interruptive of my bliss! I heard myself channeling my mother “If you want to rough house, do it outside!!” I opened the kitchen door and out they went. Then, I had one of those surreal moments when you realize, my God! I have become my mom!! Then, in a rush of insight, I realized how much my mom gave to me and how little I knew how much she was giving to me!!! Now, here I was, doing the same for my children, trusting that the cycle would repeat itself and my children would one day be standing in the kitchen, annoyed by their children , and have the same epiphany!!!!  A sense of peace and comfort ran through me. ‘That’s what makes the world goes round.’ I thought.

Then, I had the real epiphany. Something good like the Mercy Ships exists because of an uninterrupted chain of people, who give like my mom gave to me. People who make a long-term commitment to give without expectation of return. Trusting, that through the giving, the cycle of giving will repeat itself and grow stronger. That is the way the world goes round, and people who give are the only reason that something good like Mercy Ships exists.

From that moment I was sure that I wanted to be part of the giving chain that ensures the world becomes a better place. I realized that it’s not the ship or the organization that makes Mercy Ships go, it’s individuals, making a leap of faith and committing to give that makes it go.

Once that moment of insight took place, for me, there was really no decision left. I anxiously waited for Diane to come home from work so I could share my insight with her. How was I going to convince Diane to give up her practice, our comfortable American life, scoop up the children, and run away to West Africa for two years to live on a hospital ship!!??  I could already hear the words “mid life crisis”, ” or, “OK?…. Did you have a bad day at work”. She’d never go for the idea.  I gave it about a 1% chance after two years of hard selling.

She came home. We sat down and I excitedly told her about my kitchen experience, and how good this would be for our kids, and the chain of giving thing, and hearing my mothers voice, and blah blah blah. She listened quietly, and then laughed “Good God Sean, it’s worse than I thought….You are telling me your tuning into your mother! All of my other friend’s husbands turn in to their fathers, but not you, you are turning in to your mother?” We both had a good laugh at that.

Then she got serious, and simply said “ I’m in.”

Once the decision was made, the rest has been easy, just working out the details if you will. Our family is excited and proud to join the chain of giving that makes the world a better place. You can join the chain by supporting our work via prayer, volunteering, supporting our individual positions in Mercy Ships or supporting Mercy Ships in general.

Spread the word and the chain will get stronger.

All the best.

Sean, Diane, Abby, Elise, and Rhys


Sean Runnels, M.D. is a Cardiac Anesthesiologist who will take a two year leave of absence from the University of Utah to volunteer on the hosptial ship Africa Mercy in West Africa. He is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University and Oregon Health Sciences University. He trained in Anesthesiology at the University of Utah and sub-specialized in Cardiothoracic Anethesiology at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire UK. His role is to help Mercy Ships design and implement a training program for local anesthesia providers as well as provide anesthesiology services for the forgotten poor of West Africa. Diane Ellis, M.D. is a OBGYN who has left her job at the Community Health Center where she provided care for the immigrant community and underserved in Salt Lake Ctiy. She is a graduate of Indiana University and The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She trained in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Oregon Health Sciences University. While a volunteer on  board the Africa Mercy she will help design and implement a women’s health progam involving low cost cervical cancer screening and treatment, teaching essential C/S skills, Gynecologic surgery, as well as tending to the medical needs of the women of the Africa Mercy crew. Their children Abigail (12), Elise (9), and Rhys (6) look forward to living on a ship in Africa for two years. Sean and Diane are looking forward to providing care as highly specialized tools to the Mercy Ships organization so it can continue to build on the amazing work it does in transforming the lives of people in the poorest nations on Earth.

We have traveled through out the world with our children. Abby has been on all of the continents except Antarctica. Elise and Rhyse will join her in that distinction when we arrive in Africa.  Travel as a family is the greatest gift we have been given. We are happiest on the road. We hope this blog will inspire more people to travel with kids. Like anything in life, it is a skill that gets easier with practice. We will share with you some of our tricks and failures so you can skip over the hard parts. Enjoy.


26 comments on “About US

  1. Wow you guys!! I am so excited for you! When do you leave? Jane told us you were thinking about this over the summer.

    • Hi Guys,
      Sorry to be out of touch for so long, No good excuse, just distracted with planning and decisions. I stop work at the university in July and meet the ship in August. The blog will look more like a family blog in the future, i’m hoping it’s a better way to stay in contact. Facebook was too time consuming. never really worked for me.
      Everyone is super excited. Thanks for your thoughts, i have a felling it will be nice to know people are thinking about us while were there.

  2. I am so happy that I found your story about joining the medical team on the Mercy Ship to Africa! I really look forward to hearing more about your adventures! I am praying for you all to have good health and safety. God bless you Sean, Diane and your adorable children!
    Cousin Linda

  3. Hello Sean and family,

    Wow! What a momentous decision to make, I hope it will all go well. I remember you talking about this during our card games last year on board the Africa Mercy in Freetown. I am going back for a a couple of weeks in March, so will miss you guys. Shame, but I am sure I will see you next year when I return again. It was lovely working with you Sean and all the best for your move.



    • Grania,
      Great to hear from you also. So happy you are going to be a regular. It wasn’t a hard decision for us. Dealing with the transition has been a bit tricky, what to do with the house, how to fund it, What to do with our precious cats is the hardest problem we have to work on. It all amounts to just detail to be felt with,. The major stuff is all in place. Look forward to seeing you again.

  4. I have been hearing about this upcoming trip and looking forward to reading your blogs. Best of luck! Terry.

  5. When your mother and Kay first met in the
    early “Oak Hills” years, Kay’s immediate attraction was to someone willing to cart a family to Indonesia–just as we had gone to Morocco, although with a different style of employment and social support (US Navy) than your Dad’s independent contracting.

    Keep us informed–Best Wishes

    John Y.

  6. Dear Sean and Diane,
    I opened the OHSU class notes in the alumni newsletter “bridges’ and there was the info about your upcoming trip. Way to go you two. You look the same, except Sean has more facial hair and you have 3 kids. I would love to try to touch bases with you by phone or email; my ph number is 509-965-3876 and email is: kipath@aol.com I retired in Sept 2009 and moved to Yakima to be with Jeff after 20 years of commuting! I was remembering recently the April Fool joke you played on me Sean (?remember the “pregnant” Nepali girl); you almost got me with that one! All the best to you; you are doing good work. Karen Ireland

    • Hi Karen,
      Sorry i missed your comment! to busy at the moment to keep up on the blog. great to hear from you. retirement, hmmmm sounds nice. What are you doing with yourself, i don’t remember you sitting still much. were super excited about the trip. it will be nice to be out of the earning loop for a bit. as you can see, i ended up in anesthesia. diane thought better of gynonc. we did private practice for a wile then ended up in cambridge UK for a fellowship, then back to unit of utah. diane is well and says hi. we will be better at bloggign as soon as we launch and have something interesting to blog about.
      i’m sure all is well with you.

  7. Just stumbled across your blog! I will be on the Africa Mercy in Guinea Dec 2012-Feb 2013, so will likely cross paths with you guys! It will be my 1st time wtih Mercy Ships. I will be working on the peds ward. I currently am a nurse mainly do L&D, neonatal, and peds. Diane, will you be doing VVF repairs while you are there?

    • Nice to meet you, no doubt we will “cross paths” in december. we will be doing VVFF repairs. not sure the dates that will be happening, they are usually concentrated in a specific time period due to the specifics of the resources needed for these procedures. look forward to meting you.

  8. What a venture! What a great story! Hope all goes well and God Bless! Your family is very brave, not as in dangerous brave, the fact that you are willing to leave it all behind, with your entire family for such a time is brave to me. I’m sure you will reap many blessings and I’m guessing just the experience alone will make it worth the while, and I’m sure the benefit to your careers will possibly be immense! Good luck!

  9. I admire your family! What a great experience to give your children. I don’t have a medical degree and wish I could be apart of something like this. Bless you and your family! I look forward to reading about your experiences.

  10. I saw an article about you all on KSL. Your family is amazing I’m excited to follow your adventure! What an incredible opportunity for you and your children. I’m hoping to volunteer out that way sometime, maybe I’ll see you there! Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Diane- Don’t know if you remember me my name is Hollie and I was your receptionist at the Avenue Women’s center for about 2 years, you delivered my first son who is now 12 years old at the end of the month. It was really fun to read about you and your family and see your beautiful children. I wish you all the luck in the world it is so nice to hear about good people like your family! You and your family will be in my prayers and thoughts. I always thought you were such a wonderful person the world should have more people like your family in it! – Hollie

  12. Hi Sean-Glad to get connected to your blog. I’ll be following along and sometime maybe early next year we can work on drafting an article for Illuminations magazine. Best of luck to you, your wife and your kids. Wonderful work your doing and a wonderful experience for the kids!!

  13. I just read the article in the Deseret News about your upcoming journey. My husband and I are in SLC at the moment while I deliver our first baby, but we currently call Conakry, Guinea home while my husband works at the embassy. There has been much buzz about the Mercy Ship’s arrival among our little community (including envy of Starbucks on board), and we are excited for the people of Guinea to be able to take advantage of the medical services you and your colleagues will provide. They definitely need/deserve it. Best of luck to you and your family.

    • Wow small world!!! would love to meet up when you head back, or perhaps talk with you before we depart. if you can give me an email at runnelss@yahoo.com and i’ll give you a call. when are you due? where are you delivering? I’d love to pick your brain.

      • Anne (above) and Sean and Diane and kiddos,
        The world just became smaller yet. John and I just returned to our home in Rupert, ID from six weeks on board Africa Mercy in Lome, Togo. Our daughter, Laura, has been with Mercy Ship’s Africa Mercy since 2008, and is currently in Conakry, with the Advance Team, serving as the Advance Medical Liason Officer. She was at the Embassy just a couple weeks ago Anne. The time we spent in April and May was a first time for my husband, and a second time for me. I spent six weeks in Liberia in 2008. Sean and Diane, and kiddos, we appreciate the decision you have made, and will be happily following your blog. We (John and I) might return in spring 2013 for VVF surgeries in Guinea. I have worked with the post-op VVF ladies for both of my times on Africa Mercy. Sean and Diane, or Anne, should you wish to reach us, lrzski@yahoo.com will do it.

  14. Philip and I are following your blogs, and are so filled with admiration for your work. Your blogs are full of insight and define the love and dedication you, Diane and he family bring to the commitment you have made.

    Keep the blogs coming, as well as the wonderful photos.

    Love, Philip and Marian

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s