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.